These edited remarks were given by Friends of Socialist China co-editor Danny Haiphong at our recent webinar, The Empire Strikes Back: Imperialism’s Global War on Multipolarity. The full event can be viewed on YouTube.
In the post-Soviet era, it has become fashionable to strip all geopolitical developments of their class roots. Wars have been explained away by bourgeois propaganda: the War on Terror, Great Power Competition, and matters of “national security.” The Ukraine crisis is a case in point. Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has been labeled a war without a cause by Western detractors. But underneath the cacophony of capitalist ideology and propaganda is a class struggle occurring on the global stage for multipolarity where the Russia-Ukraine conflict is but one flashpoint.
Vladimir Lenin is perhaps the most well-known Marxist revolutionary to advance a modern theory of international relations rooted in the class struggle brought about by imperialism. Lenin concluded that the ascendency of monopoly and finance capital divided the world into colonies and oppressed nations. The self-determination of these nations would therefore form a core pillar in the struggle for socialism worldwide. Without self-determination, workers and oppressed people of the world would suffer immeasurable losses from the scourge of colonial domination and its triple evils of military occupation, economic plunder, and racial discrimination.
Multipolarity is in essence a continuation of the struggle for self-determination in the modern era. After years of imperialist ramblings about the “End of History” and “There is No Alternative” (TINA) to neoliberalism, the trend toward a multipolar world is demonstrating that the exact opposite is true. In all corners of the globe, the unipolar dominance of U.S. imperialism is collapsing upon its own contradictions. In Europe, U.S. imperialism threatens to shut the lights out and place what was once the center of capitalist development into a permanent state of decay. In Latin America, insurgent left-wing governments led by Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and others are rejecting U.S. domination in their pursuit of peoples-centered socialist development and integration. In Africa, Western plunder and militarization led by the U.S. has led many countries to pursue stronger relations with China and Russia.
China and Russia are in the vanguard of the multipolar world. China’s socialist governance system has balanced entrance into an unstable, capitalist dominated world economic system by maintaining state control of the commanding heights of the economy such as energy, land, transportation, natural resources, and finance. This has allowed China to ascend to the top of the economic ladder as a top innovator of high-technology and address socialist imperatives such as poverty, climate change, and public health. Russia has dug its way out of the disastrous collapse of the Soviet Union to regain national sovereignty and become a major economic and military power in rapid time.
While many differences exist between Russia and China, what binds them is a commitment to sovereign development and self-determination. China and Russia’s alliance has included steadfast resistance to U.S. and Western sanctions against not only their societies but also smaller nations in the Global South like the DPRK, Cuba, and Syria. China and Russia have led efforts to seek peaceful resolutions where the U.S. only makes war. While the U.S. has applied military force in its policy toward Syria, Ukraine, and the DPRK to name just a few, China and Russia have positioned themselves as anchors for peace on the UN Security Council and several other multilateral organizations. These include the BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the infrastructure projects of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union which offer cooperative pathways to economic integration and development.
Russia and China’s efforts arguably form the foundations of multipolarity. But what is a multipolar world exactly? It is a world where multiple systems of development exist, sometimes in contradiction and conflict with each other, other times in cooperation. Some have viewed this development in abstract terms, stripping multipolarity of its class character. This is a monumental error. Multipolarity is not a benign development but an outgrowth of class struggle.
U.S. imperialism’s war against multipolarity is a war on self-determination and sovereignty. To U.S. imperialism, unity among the oppressed nations of the world is the foremost enemy to the unipolar dominance required to maximize capitalist profit. Thwarting such unity is the principal reason why the U.S. has militarily encircled both Russia and China and placed sanctions on key components of their economies. It is why Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela suffer under starvation U.S. sanctions and leftist movements throughout Latin America have been undermined for seeking collective liberation from the U.S.’s imperialist Monroe Doctrine. Furthermore, the U.S.’s militarization of Africa via the U.S. Africa Command is intimately linked to the U.S.-NATO war on Libya in 2011, a nation that had as a central goal the integration of the resource-rich African continent through an independent currency, military, and passport system.
U.S. wars in West and Central Asia cannot be separated from the class struggle embodied in multipolarity, either. These wars have one goal: to keep the region in chaos. Chaos holds the possibility that integration projects such as the China-led Belt and Road Initiative will be arrested in this key part of the world. The U.S. war on Syria and its continued destabilization campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, are in part an attempt to block Russia and China’s vision for the integration of the region from East to West. Massive hunger, death, and terrorism that have resulted from these wars are merely collateral damage in the larger goal of thwarting genuine independence and self-determination.
Some may wonder in this intense New Cold War environment whether Russia can seriously be considered a champion of self-determination and sovereignty. After all, the ongoing Ukraine crisis has been portrayed by the West as an unquestionable example of Russian aggression that violates international law. Let’s be clear: Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine does not contradict the central premise that multipolarity is rooted in class struggle. U.S.-NATO encroachments along Russia’s borders since 1991 and the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine in 2014 have created an untenable security situation. Rather than contradict Russia’s role in a multipolar world system, the Ukraine crisis has strengthened it by demonstrating just how enormous the stakes of this class struggle truly are.
The Ukraine crisis has exposed how the U.S.’s war on multipolarity threatens to bring about a global war even more destructive than the prior two global conflicts of the 20th century fought among the capitalists for the domination of the planet. By waging ceaseless counter insurgency war maneuvers meant to provoke Russia and China, the U.S. empire is playing with fire. This is evident in the U.S.’s complete refusal to negotiate with Russia in December of 2021 to prevent the Ukraine crisis from escalating and its increased military expenditures to Ukraine and Taiwan over the same period. U.S. imperialism has been the instigator of war and the violator of self-determination all along, but the wall-to-wall misinformation of the Western media has convinced many in the North America and Europe to believe otherwise.
U.S. imperialism clearly views multipolarity not from the prism of peaceful coexistence but as a threat to the continued rule of its financial empire. Progressive and left forces in the West should too. Multipolarity is indeed a class war, one characterized by nations and peoples pursuing peaceful, sovereign, and people-centered development in the face of a hegemon willing to use the deadliest forms of economic, political, and military warfare to stop them.
The question becomes: which side are we on? The side of the imperialists led by the U.S. seeking maximum profit for the fewest people and nations or that of China, Russia, and its allies striving for self-determination and integration in an effort to meet the needs of the people and the planet? Our collective answer will determine whether progressive forces in the West stand by and watch the war on multipolarity or whether they are organized to follow Lenin’s advice and take up the struggle to defeat their own imperialist governments at the root of it.