By Greg Butterfield
Based on remarks given at the Workers World Party national conference in New York City on November 12, 2016.
It’s an honor to introduce the message from InterUnit, the internationalist fighters in Donbass, women and men from all over the world who carry on the best traditions of militant anti-fascism and proletarian internationalism. When I visited the Donbass republics in May, I was able to meet some them and see the difficult conditions they are working in, living rough in dug-out shelters within site of the fascist brigands on the other side of the front line.
Workers World Party supports the armed resistance in Donbass. We stand with the people of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, who continue to resist under the shelling and provocations of the U.S.-backed regime in Ukraine. We support unconditionally the revolutionary youth from the former Soviet Union, Europe, Latin America, India and many other places who have gone to stand with Donbass at the risk of their lives and freedom.
The Maidan coup in Ukraine three years ago would have succeeded in bringing NATO to Crimea and U.S. nukes to Russia’s Western border – had it not been for resistance from below. But the best-laid, best-funded plans of U.S. imperialism and its NATO allies don’t always go according to plan. In the Donbass region, which used to be part of eastern Ukraine, they were stopped by a popular armed resistance.
As comrade Alexey Albu, from the outlawed Ukrainian organization Borotba, recently said, Donbass and Syria are two sections of a united front against imperialism. Beyond U.S. plans for regime change in Ukraine and Syria lies another goal: the encirclement and dismemberment of the Russian Federation.
Russia in the crosshairs
Capitalist Russia has been in the crosshairs of U.S. expansion since the destruction of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago. Russia is painted as the aggressor, but in fact has acted defensively as the U.S. has aggressively moved under both Democratic and Republican regimes to expand NATO and carry out regime change against Moscow’s allies.
This summer saw the biggest-ever NATO war games in Eastern Europe, Anakonda-16, a mobilization of 30,000 troops from 20 countries. Afterward, at the NATO conference in Warsaw, the imperialist alliance pledged to increase troops and weapons throughout the region, and build so-called “missile defense” systems – actually offensive weapons, aimed at Russia – in Romania, Poland and Turkey.
This past Monday – the day before the U.S. elections – NATO’s general secretary ordered 300,000 troops onto high alert to counter what he called “Russian aggression.”
Washington would prefer to carry out regime change in Russia by proxy rather than by dirtying its own hands. But the Western-backed opposition in Russia suffered a serious setback after the 2014 coup in Ukraine. The rise of far-right nationalists and neo-Nazi gangs in Kiev sparked a resurgence of anti-fascist sentiment in Russia that made that scenario unlikely for the foreseeable future.
Like many speakers here, I suspect, I sat down at the beginning of the week to write my talk when it seemed like Clinton would win the election, and found myself having to rethink it by midweek. But the message is ultimately the same: Our urgent task is to build solidarity between the anti-war and anti-imperialist forces of the world and the struggle of workers and oppressed people here at home, from Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock.
The Trump trap
The Trump campaign, with its selective isolationist rhetoric, has caused a great deal of confusion around the world. In Europe and the former Soviet Union, where there is intense fear of open war or even nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, millions of people viewed Trump as the lesser-evil candidate. Even some forces on the left who should know better have been carried away and made truly ghastly statements. And many of those people are today celebrating Trump’s victory because they believe he will carry out his promises for better relations with Russia.
Isolationist rhetoric has a long history in U.S. politics, going back at least to Woodrow Wilson, who campaigned on a promise to keep the U.S. out of World War I, then turned around and sent U.S. troops to fight and die while repressing the anti-war left and deporting tens of thousands of immigrant workers.
It’s sobering – knowing what we know about Trump and the danger his movement poses to the working class of the United States – to see the kind of lesser-evil fantasies we associate with the Democratic Party here at home sweep through another part of the world. It seems no proofs of Trump’s racism and misogyny, his ties to Wall Street, his ties to war mongers from the Reagan and Bush years, can convince some people that Trump is not the man on a horse they have been waiting for to save the day.
People there have fallen into Trump’s trap for the same reason that millions in the U.S. fell into Clinton’s – out of fear.
Soon enough, Trump will show the world his true colors. But all the more important for us, as communists, as Marxists, to speak the truth to the workers and oppressed of the world NOW. I want to salute our communist allies in Russia, Donbass, Moldova and elsewhere, many of whom sent greetings to this conference, who are speaking the truth about the white-nationalist oligarch Trump today under very difficult conditions, just as we spoke the truth about the rotten Maidan movement when it was very unpopular to do so.
What is imperialism?
What’s lacking, here and around the world, is an understanding of imperialism as a system, rather than a policy directed by one group or individual. Imperialism is not a conspiracy of global elites or neocons. Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, driven by one overwhelming compulsion – expand or die. At the head of the “executive committee of the ruling class,” Trump can no more ignore this built-in U.S. war drive than Clinton or Obama, even if he wanted to.
We need to revive the study and discussion of a Marxist understanding of imperialism and its insatiable drive to war, beginning with Lenin’s classic book “Imperialism: The Highest State of Capitalism.” We need to remind the workers of the world that the danger of imperialist war can only be ended by the united efforts of the international working class. This is a contribution we can and must make — not only to the movement here, but the entire world.
When I visited Donbass in May, people from many views and walks of life told me: World War III has already begun. Most of the world just doesn’t know it yet.
But 99 years ago this week, the workers, soldiers and peasants of Russia rose up in the midst of a world war. Led by Lenin’s Bolsheviks, they overthrew the capitalist system, proposed immediate peace to the whole world, roused the workers and colonial peoples everywhere, and established the world’s first successful socialist revolution.
It may be that a new world war has already begun. But we know how to end it. Lenin taught us!