Imperialist trap

Both Steve Cousins and Ian Donovan criticise me for not supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the latter goes even further (Letters, March 31). Apparently I am a “social chauvinist”. Unsurprisingly, I disagree!

Both comrades make the fatal mistake of assuming that, because I characterise Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as defensive, it is therefore an anti-imperialist war. It isn’t. It is, as I said in the article, a war waged by a gangster capitalist regime to preserve their own class privileges and status which they see, rightly, as under threat from Nato (‘Key issue is not Russia’, March 23). It is a war that the Russian working class has very little interest in supporting.

It is no accident that Putin justified the war with reference to Greater Russian chauvinism, denying even the existence of a Ukrainian nation. His justification of it as an anti-Nazi war might be more convincing if Putin and his regime hadn’t worked closely with Russian neo-Nazis, such as Russkii Obraz.

Russia’s army is not a revolutionary army, defending a socialist revolution and appealing to the Ukrainian working class to turn on their own ruling class. It is a demoralised and ill-equipped army, which is clearly less motivated than their opponents. As a result of the rampant corruption amongst Russia’s oligarchs, much of the equipment is defective.

The purpose of my article was to combat the wave of nationalist hysteria and pro-imperialist social chauvinism spread by the mass media. Its aim was to show how the responsibility for the Russian invasion lies squarely with Nato and the United States, which repeatedly broke promises not to expand Nato into eastern Europe. A Nato which, far from being a defensive alliance, was an offensive, imperialist alliance.

I have argued from the start that Russia’s invasion was, even from the perspective of Russia’s gangster regime, a mistake. Putin fell into the trap that Biden and the west laid for him. He has managed to portray Russia as the aggressor and western imperialism as the victim. That is why all informed commentators, such as John Mearsheimer, were convinced that he would not invade. I too was taken by surprise. Putin talked himself into a war that he had no chance of winning.

When Russia first invaded on February 24, I was convinced it would be confined to defence of the Donbas and possibly its expansion. I found it impossible to believe that Putin could seriously entertain the idea that not only could he conquer the whole of Ukraine, but that he could also hold it against a hostile population. As it is, Putin has had to drastically revise his war aims. Far from de-Nazifying Ukraine, he may well end up strengthening the far right.

Unless Putin is overthrown and Russia withdraws entirely, we are likely to see the effective partition of Ukraine and continued hostilities for some time to come. This will, of course, have consequences in terms of democratic rights in Britain and Europe. Already, for example, the German government is proposing to make it a criminal offence to openly support Russia.

Socialists have no interest in supporting an invasion by one capitalist country of another, whatever the motivation. The fact that Russia’s motivation is not imperialist does not mean that it is justified. Our interests are those of the working class of both countries and they have been ill-served by Putin’s invasion.

Tony Greenstein

Putin and Nato

Nato’s main purpose remains opposition to Russia. Events since 1991 have intensified its hostility. George Robertson - one of the hardest of hard-line Nato propagandists and functionaries - made this plain, as witnessed in his recollection, as follows (republished last week).

Robertson - the former labour defence secretary who led Nato between 1999 (the year of the first major Nato aggression/war crime/crime against humanity) and 2003 - said Putin made it clear at their first meeting that he “wanted to be part of that secure, stable, prosperous west that Russia was out of at the time.” Putin asked: ‘When are you going to invite us to join Nato?’ and [Robertson] replied: ‘Well, we don’t invite people to join Nato; they apply to join Nato.’ And he said: ‘Well, we’re not standing in line with a lot of countries that don’t matter.’ (‘We won’t grovel’ - JF).

This, of course, after the success of the swindling of Gorbachev by James Baker and GHW Bush, regarding the expansion of Nato - once bit, twice shy. An obvious if unnecessary reminder of Russia’s special position in Nato eyes - opposition to Russia still defined Nato, which was not true of any other country.

The account chimes with what Putin told the late David Frost in a BBC interview shortly before he was first inaugurated as Russian president more than 21 years ago. Putin said he would not rule out joining Nato “if and when Russia’s views are taken into account as those of an equal partner”. since opposition to Russia was the main purpose (Germany having been kept down) of Nato, to treat Russia as of no more geopolitical - or geo-economic - importance than Estonia, Latvia, etc (the list now includes those pillars of the world order Crna Gora (Montenegro), ‘Northern Macedonia’ and Kosovo) was a calculated - and, ever since, an ongoing - insult.

We do not need to discuss whether Russia counts as an imperialist power (albeit, as pre-1917, a power plainly subordinate to the world hegemons). The so-called oligarchs in no way dominate Russian policy, as they did under Harvard rule in the 1990s. The ideology of Nato - organiser of the joint criminal enterprise, as Andy Wilcoxson well puts it in his thorough analysis of the Nato war against former Yugoslavia - is to ensure that Russia “knows its place, and may well - indeed certainly will - need to be taught the lesson that was forced upon Iran, Iraq, Serbia. Afghanistan, etc; Cuba, Vietnam, Venezuela are in the ‘departure lounge’”.

Nato’s ‘defensive glacis’ is to extend, encircle and throttle both Russia and China. ‘Humanitarian’ points - often well-founded - about Putin’s arbitrary and very often gangsterish rule are merely grist to the propagandist mill. Nato is the biggest gangster in human history. The same is true of the alleged oligarchs - so very different from the Nato elites, whose domestic policies are, sometimes apologetically, in line with the overt interests of the Peter Hebblethwaites and the oil sheikhs. The 1990s mass murder of the population of the Soviet Union, but especially Russia, shows what their unbridled ‘free markets’ will inflict on the working class throughout the world, given the chance - Pinochet on a world scale. With friends like these, who needs enemies? Putin has learned George Robertson’s lesson.

Given this, the lack of evidence in Nato commentators’ accounts of the current Russo-Ukrainian war matters relatively little. Did Putin bet the farm on a quick thrust to decapitate the Zelensky regime - or just the outbuildings? We do not - and until Nato decapitates the Kremlin we will never - know. Do you think the Nato conquerors of the Red Square would publish the captured state in full?

So the best response to Jack Conrad’s appreciation (‘End of phase one’, March 31) is to insist that we do not know what Putin’s plans were or are or will be. And those unknown knowns are the criteria by which Jack, and the Nato media at large, are measuring the flow and ebb of the special (military) operation.

Jack Fogarty


There has developed a fashion to liken the present war in the Ukraine to the war in the Malvinas in 1982 and to assert that in both we should be neutral, taking neither side; that both are examples of inter-imperialist wars and we should be defeatist on both sides. I reject that and assert that neither Argentina nor Russia are imperialist countries, and we should be/have been for the victory of both over the forces of imperialism, direct or proxy.

Back in 1982 the Spart ‘family’ all had the same reactionary chauvinist positions on the Malvinas conflict. They refused to defend semi-colonial Argentina against imperialist Britain, because “The Falkland war [sic!] was an armed conflict between capitalist Argentina and rotten British imperialism. At no point in this war was the national sovereignty of Argentina put into question, whereas the overthrow of their respective governments was in the interests of the British and also of the Argentinean working classes. For this reason, communists put forward the position of revolutionary defeatism and fight for the defeat of their own bourgeoisie.”

This is only applicable to inter-imperialist wars. In a war against a semi-colony it amounts to great nation chauvinism. I responded to them that this is a shameful evasion of proletarian internationalist duty to defend a semi-colony against an imperialist attack: the evasive “capitalist [not semi-colonial] Argentina”, the failure to admit US support for “rotten imperialist Britain” and the transparently cowardly “at no point in this war was the national sovereignty of Argentina put into question” - as if this could excuse a failure to defend this semi-colony against imperialist attack.

And the rationale for it all - “the overthrow of their respective governments was in the interests of the British and also of the Argentinean working classes” - is clearly wrong on both counts. Thatcher recovered from a disastrous opinion poll position, due to her destruction of British jobs and manufacturing industry, to sweep the next election because of it. This ideological victory set her up for her assault on the miners in 1985 and for her anti-union laws and privatisation of public assets. And need we point out the dire political consequence of this for the British and world working class, however much imperialism’s apologists on the far left might have sought to obfuscate their treachery by trumpeting the secondary gain of the overthrow of Argentinean president, Leopoldo Galtieri?

The British working class were left ideologically leaderless by the national chauvinism of Labour leader Michael Foot. Ronald Reagan embarked on a simultaneous, ruthless offensive against the US working class, which set the pattern for the offensive of every capitalist class against their own working class worldwide. All this prepared for imperialism’s crowning achievement: the world-historical defeat which the world working class suffered in the overthrow of the Soviet Union.

The sinking of the ARA General Belgrano on May 2 1982 was a victory for world imperialism, which the Spart ‘family’ were unable to oppose politically: the ass’s ears of Shachtmanism poked through the orthodox Trotskyist hat.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight


Is Paul Houston able to substantiate his claim that Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century is a group which “has clearly evolved far to the right” (‘A toxic operation’, March 24)? I should note that I’m not a member of RS21.

Jack Howard
Melbourne, Australia


In many leftist venues, the call has gone out for a new international - or at least some kind of effort to bring the revolutionary and radical left into some kind of alignment. And yet there appears to be no obvious means by which this can occur, for multiple reasons.

There is a natural tendency for each group, thinker or leader, to believe that any new form of alignment should occur under their own auspices. After all, we all believe that we are right and indeed we should: only a hypocrite asserts beliefs they do not actually hold. We differ on matters small and large, on policies and practicalities.

We have no great charismatic figure of such stature that they could lead a mass movement, and few enough causes that we can even cohere around. We differ over relations with bourgeois parties and activist groups and, even where one radical group and another happen to coincide, we do not work together. For the most part, we do not even know what the strategy of other groups might be.

I cannot solve these problems at a stroke, but I do hope to propose a method that may begin to discover or develop an approach to such a solution - or at least to an arrangement that can usefully pursue our goals, whether in historic forms or novel ones.

I am not convinced that we need only to duplicate the methodologies of the past: it is quite possible that the strategy of one great party, or one big union, is now redundant. Much of the organisational role that was previously filled by the trade union or party bureaucracy has now been digitised, just as it has in other arenas. These days, a membership list can appear as all the names copied into an email, or the members of a WhatsApp group of the followers of a Facebook page. Announcements about actions and events no longer need to be spread at a factory workshop meeting, or posted on a bulletin board, etc.

Similarly, things like a union’s strike fund, while not precisely redundant, could conceivably be duplicated by crowdfunding methods, to which we have indeed already seen the grassroots right resort. The ‘We Build The Wall’ crowdfunding campaign to supposedly erect Trump’s racist border wall pulled in $25 million, while the recent Trucker convoy around Washington DC raised something in the order of $10 million. Crowdfunding has been used by the left in some respects, such as the raising of bail funds and legal fees for jailed protestors, but overall our adoption of new methods is lagging behind the right.

The shapes of these historical structures - the party, the unions, etc - take the form of a hierarchical network, but this isn’t the only form of network topology available. Hierarchical networks are effective when the cost of communication between individuals is high, such that they benefit from the efficiencies of being addressed in groups. But these days the technology for point-to-point networks is abundant and available, and we are making surprisingly little use of it.

I suggest that modern radical groups start to think in terms of horizontal, peer-to-peer relationships with other groups, including groups that are, strictly speaking, outside the left, or outside the radical layer of the left; that they locate other groups for which they have some sympathy, or at least curiosity, and establish a deliberate process for maintaining contact and exchanging information.

I imagine this taking on the form of an appointed ‘Liaison’. It is already fairly commonplace for members of this or that group to attend the meetings of another, and I would like to encourage and deepen this practice. In the age of Covid, we have all become familiar with off-the-rack and free teleconferencing tools, so the barrier to entry is decidedly low. It should be quite practical for even the smallest of groups to make a point to establish regular (or irregular) relations with others by dialling into a Zoom meeting. Larger groups, that might have several ‘Liaisons’ approaching them, could marshal them all through such a meeting without impinging on their physical, hard-world arrangements.

Much of this happens already; thus the main point would be to take this informal praxis and formalise it. Rather than just individuals connecting to another group, about which they might be curious, to actually and deliberately choose those groups with which to establish a connection, to ensure that someone is available to fill the Liaison role, to actively solicit reports from the Liaison to the home group, and to deliberately and systematically maintain an awareness of what other radical left groups are involved with and doing.

Links from one group to another don’t have to be permanent, can be turned on and off at will, don’t have to be carried out by the same person, and don’t imply any further endorsement or collaboration. They are not alliances or working arrangements, although one might hope that they will facilitate such further deepening of relations.

The power of networking lies in the way that each node in the network enhances the effectiveness of each other node. If there were only one telephone in the world, it would be useless; if there are 100 phones, that first device can connect to 99 others; if there 1,000 phones, each can connect to 999.

The Liaison model facilitates this kind of thing by bringing Liaisons from more than one group into contact with one another. Although these Liaisons may operate without the need to speak in a meeting they attend, it would certainly be worthwhile having the chair acknowledge and announce their presence. Thus each group that has incoming Liaisons itself serves as a venue for these other groups to discover each other and thus potentially form further links.

A broader community where individuals with particular expertises and competencies come to be known allows us to call on these specialities. If group A knows that group B has someone who knows some topic well, they could ask for that person to attend their own meetings as a speaker. Recent recruits might be brought into contact with groups in their physical proximity that they previously had no contact with. The depth of knowledge and mutual awareness would hopefully spread and deepen, allowing us all to learn from each other, and to undertake collaborative action.

None of this is a panacea for the fragmentation and structural weakness of the radical left. But at the moment it seems to me we are all individually groping around in the dark, with little idea even who our allies are. Although there are many publications which express the positions of various groups, there is actually far too much of this for anyone to really keep on top of who everyone is and what stances they take. Even if and when a major issue arises that would benefit from the collaboration of left groups, there is little mechanism even for the word to spread.

Until and unless someone can come up with a better strategy, I think this is worth a try.

Gareth Martin

Assessing Stalin

As someone who has read Geoffrey Roberts’ previous books about ‘Stalingrad’ and his excellent Stalin: from world war to cold war, which firmly refutes the conventional Trotskyite view that the war was won ‘despite Stalin’, I was very interested in Andrew Northall’s comments on Stalin’s library (Letters, March 3). The usual reviews of Roberts’ books are why waste your time researching on Stalin? One of the reviews of Stalin’s library called it “an airbrushing of a book-reading monster”. No need to bother thinking then.

In material such as Trotsky’s biography of Stalin there is much reference to the “backward Georgian” and the Trots like in general to give the impression that Stalin was much below Trotsky’s intellectual level, so I was frankly surprised that Stalin had a library of 25,000 books and that evidence exists through annotations, markings, etc that he had read many of them.

Matt Kelly’s view is that of the conventional wisdom that Stalin is not worth any critical analysis (Letters, March 10). After all, ‘everybody knows’ that the man was a monster (to use a classic piece of Marxist terminology). He writes: “Andrew Northall’s letter in the March 3 edition of the Weekly Worker took me back in time and place - the time being the 1930s and the place being another planet! I had to pinch myself at first - thinking I had come across the transcript of an Alexei Sayle routine from the 1990s about his mam and dad’s trips to Czechoslovakia.” That is that then: Stalin, and by definition communism, of which he was the leader for a considerable time, are totally discredited and there is no point in thinking about this period or critically examining it.

Regarding Robert Conquest, I would advise people to read The great terror and Harvest of sorrows, but not uncritically, as Jack Conrad suggests on the advice of somebody like Hillel Ticktin. Conquest was a western intelligence asset who published extensively, as Conrad does point out, via Praeger Press. But he also had unlimited access to the anti-Soviet journals such as Encounter and was reportedly spoon-fed by the Information Research Department - so he is not so much a genius as someone who had access to all the panoply of anti-Soviet press. You do not receive the Presidential Medal for Freedom and all his various British and international gongs for reporting objectively on communism and communist society.

This is important because Geoffrey Roberts appears to be that rarest of all creatures when it comes to historians of communism (rather than communist historians) - someone with integrity. I would also place David McLellan in this category.

Comrades may say: ‘So what? Who cares? It was all a long time ago.’ However, the point is that this is not just another historical debate. A long line of attempts to build a socialist society have either completely failed or partially failed (USSR, China, Vietnam, Cuba, etc) and potential recruits to the socialist cause are entitled to ask: if all existing attempts have resulted in failure, is ‘socialism’ just a potentially nice idea that is doomed to fail?

If nothing else, ‘official communism’ has at least led millions of people in struggle - yes, with errors and crimes - but, if Marxism really is the bifurcation termed Trotskyism, it has led to nothing but the absurdity of one-man political ‘parties’ - small groups of ‘academics’ who blame all and every problem with socialism as ‘Stalinism’ or, ridiculously, the ‘aftermath’ of Stalinism and the kind of petty bourgeois-led outfits exposed every week in the Weekly Worker, which actually despise working class people and covertly consider them to be stupid.

The real question about the USSR is, could it have been transformed from the inside in a socialist direction, as asserted by someone such as Roy Medvedev? Classic Trotskyism also seems to think that the USSR could have been transformed, albeit with a ‘political revolution’ of some nature. If this meant removing the nomenklatura, but leaving the overall social structure intact, then I for one would have seen this as an historical step forward.

Ted Hankin