The propaganda campaign that the imperialists are carrying out around Ukraine is a way of covering up how decrepit and discredited imperialism has truly become. When the imperialists portray Ukraine’s recent counteroffensive as a crushing blow against Washington’s challengers, they aren’t just leaving out how the territories Ukraine took back were of little strategic importance, or how Russia has shown itself to be the one with the superior military strategy by prioritizing the minimization of their troop casualties over momentary control of soil. They’re leaving out how Washington, by provoking Russia into war, has played a geopolitical chess move that’s backfired on it.
The sanctions were supposed to weaken Russia enough that it could be destabilized and balkanized, leaving China vulnerable to being subdued. This has proven to be an utter fantasy. The Russian economy hasn’t been defeated, because the country has been preparing for a full-on sanctions scenario such as this one for years. Russia is coming out better than the U.S. bloc is, able to avoid Europe’s fate of catastrophic energy shortage and irrecoverable depression. And the U.S. itself is having its inflation crisis accelerated by its own sanctions. By forcing the world to choose between it and the United States, Russia has further exposed Washington’s declining hegemony, winning de facto or even enthusiastic support from the formerly colonized countries. The biggest “loss” for anti-imperialism that’s come from this is that the Nordic countries have joined NATO, which ultimately has brought the imperialist bloc further along in its decay; these countries were already practically NATO members anyway, and Russia has been able to take on these unambiguous enemies rather than provoke neutral countries or lose allies. Which the U.S. empire has itself become at risk of doing, roping the European countries into a wildly costly economic war that’s causing dissension among them.
As the Belt and Road Initiative continues to undo neo-colonialism’s inequities, and as growing global inequality leads to intensification of class struggle in the Global South especially, the imperialists are seeing their extractive economic base shrink. The prospect of strategically important Global South countries like Ethiopia coming to stand on their own feet economically; the inability of imperialism to carry out coups throughout the Latin American anti-imperialist countries; the probability of a new wave of revolutions sweeping the remaining neo-colones during our generation; the global shift away from the dollar that the Russia sanctions have accelerated; it’s all driving the imperialists to desperation. However much they can gain oil, weapons, and mercenary contractor profits from their wars, the U.S. bourgeoisie can’t keep their capital strong if neo-colonialism disappears.
When the core’s economic foundations of global exploitation fall out, our ruling class will take drastic measures to try to keep the system going. They’ll take the tools for violence that they’ve been innovating within their fascist Ukraine project, and turn these tools against their own people. It’s already starting to happen. Neo-Nazi shooters in America are using the same symbols that Azov uses. We have the Proud Boys assaulting those who threaten “western chauvinism,” like how Ukraine’s fascists have been routinely beating communists since the coup eight years ago. Our judicial system has set a precedent letting reactionaries shoot at demonstrators, making for a repeat of Ukraine’s Odessa Massacre in 2014. The next time the U.S. empire’s contradictions come to a breaking point, and its internal colonies are provoked into revolt like they were in 2020, the fascists will try to apply the same treatment to those standing up for liberation. And our government, which is soon to be fully taken over by fascists, will give the bloodshed a patriotic stamp of approval.
How are revolutionaries in the core to respond to this? By incorporating into our analysis the dual nature of our conditions: U.S. capital is weakening with the decline of imperialism, and at the same time our ruling class is working to strengthen the fascist movement in reaction to this situation. As Mao said, the reactionaries are both real tigers and paper tigers, both vulnerable to the forces of history and capable of inflicting vast harm for as long as they remain in power. Even in its last decade of decline, U.S. imperialism has been able to bring war back into Europe, impose neoliberal shock policies onto Ukraine while militarizing the broader region, and carry out parallel destabilization and militarization across the new cold war’s other fronts. It’s funded an Azerbaijani invasion of Armenia, which is currently entering its initial phase, in order to try to split Russian forces. It’s implemented further austerity within its neo-colonies and core countries during the pandemic, while tightening its sanctions. It’s heightened the danger of nuclear war, and orchestrated censorship and propaganda campaigns which have manufactured public support for the escalations which create this danger. Yet all of these actions can’t truly be considered victories, any more than the recent Ukrainian counter-offensive can. They’re the desperate things an empire does when it’s in a state of irrecoverable decline.
That’s the key lesson we in the core can take from imperialism’s recent conduct abroad: the more imperiled our ruling class becomes, the more rashly it will act. We can see this in how Henry Kissinger, an ancient imperialist who views the world from the more pragmatic analytical lens that imperialism applied during his career fifty years ago, doesn’t share the desire of the current imperialist leadership to uncompromisingly press forward in Ukraine. His style of sociopathy is different from that of the Biden administration and its NATO sycophants. He would decide to negotiate with Russia over territory, rather than draw out the conflict just for the sake of dealing some more negligibly harmful blows towards Russia. This is because he’s reacted to U.S. hegemony’s unraveling by coming to be concerned about “disequilibrium.” I.e. a further loss of control for Washington due to Washington’s taking ever more reckless and non-strategic actions. He sees the situation U.S. imperialism is in: if it responds to its decline in a reactive rather than pragmatic fashion, it will only end up sealing its fate.
The current generation of imperialists won’t heed his warning, because lashing out without forethought is what empires always do when confronted with their decline. If or when the revolutionary crisis in the United States escalates to the point of armed confrontation, our bourgeois dictatorship won’t fight against us in accordance with sound military strategy. It will fight like the corrupt Kiev U.S. puppet regime has been fighting: by prioritizing momentary propaganda victories. Propaganda victories won through dramatic yet strategically inconsequential actions, like taking relatively unimportant sections of territory. At least this is how it will act when it becomes desperate enough, which could happen sooner than one might assume.
Again, these people are in the end paper tigers, however many weapons they have. Weapons are useless without troops to operate them, and that’s why Ukraine is in an increasingly bad military situation even though it now has more weapons than it did at the beginning of the conflict. Ukraine’s armed forces are being depleted, so much that Zelensky is freeing convicted torturers and child rapists to fight. Given how dysfunctional and working class-populated America’s armed forces are, plenty of defections could happen in a revolutionary scenario.
This fact about reactionaries is why the president of Russia, which is the revolutionary actor in the context of this conflict, has responded to the recent counteroffensive by nonchalantly saying he’s lost nothing. This event represents a turning point in the war only in the minds of the imperialists who believe their own propaganda. The emperor has no clothes. The process towards multi-polarity, and then the end of Washington as an international player, can’t be reversed by this (likely temporary) seizure of one stretch of land. Operation Z is about demilitarization, with control over land being secondary to taking away Kiev’s tools for carrying out ethnic cleansing. And demilitarization is what’s happening. This unwise, PR-obsessed maneuver by Kiev has even made it easier for Russia to further pick off Ukraine’s forces, letting Russia separate the soldiers from the civilians by bringing the combatants out in the open.
There’s another, not so optimistic facet to this story, one that I shouldn’t omit. It’s that though Ukraine’s taking these territories hasn’t represented a loss for Russia, it’s represented untold horrors for the people who now live under the Kiev regime’s brutal rule. The fascists, in their pathetic and desperate rage, will subject their captives to extrajudicial punishments, torturing people and likely tying them to posts in war crimes that imitate crucifixion. They’ll execute everyone they suspect of being “traitors,” and Ukraine’s apologists will whitewash these atrocities by dehumanizing those who collaborated with Russia. What they’ll leave out is that these people helped Russia because this was their only hope for escaping the human rights abuses which Kiev’s genocidal leadership intends to subject the Donbass people to.
So is the case for every other front in the struggle against reaction: the reactionaries are willing to stoop to anything to try to preserve their control. They’ll murder and torment however many they need to in order to hold back history’s progression. The further death and trauma that will be caused by their crimes shouldn’t be minimized. But capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism aren’t sustainable, and their time will come. In the Donbass, for one example, we’ve already been seeing tangible progress towards something new. The separatists have given their governing structures the same exceptionally progressive constitution that Stalin’s Soviet Union had (a development the imperialist media amusingly tries to use as negative propaganda), one step away from the restoration of socialism in that area. Ultimately it will become socialist again, along with the rest of the former Soviet lands. As more of the world’s people gain freedom from imperialism, they’ll build new ways of ordering society, ones that show the inferiority of what the U.S. ruling class seeks to impose.