Above: a Chinese nuclear reactor
The more the geopolitical conflict escalates—and thereby the more the class conflict escalates—the further the true allegiances of the different political actors get revealed. The increasing tension of our situation is forcing everyone to take sides. This has been shown by Russia’s decision to defy U.S. hegemony by forcibly dismantling fascist Ukraine’s military. In response to this, certain actors within the global left and the communist movement have shown they consistently stand with anti-fascism and anti-imperialism by aligning with Russia, while others have shown they’re not consistent on these things by vilifying Russia. This rift the conflict has formed is indicative of a far larger divide. A divide that will only become more apparent, and more necessary to draw attention to, as these global power struggles develop.
A good way of understanding the nature of this rift is by looking at it as a dispute over whether to take example from the communist parties which are in power, or to discard what these parties have to teach us. This dispute has been present ever since the formation of the first workers state in 1917. What Russia’s Ukraine operation has done is expose who, in the modern socialist movement, does and doesn’t ally with the movement’s successful elements. And therefore who’s willing to do what’s necessary for creating more successful revolutions by taking example from these previous ones.
The most obvious instance of this is how even though China has in practice supported Russia’s action by diplomatically aligning with Russia, and the DPRK has unequivocally praised Russia’s action, socialist organizations in the imperialist countries have overwhelmingly condemned Russia. This is even true for plenty of the groups, as well as individuals, who claim to support China and the DPRK. They’re pro-existing socialism in theory, while in practice they’ve decided to create a contradiction between their own stance and the stance of the countries they say they support.
I’ve commented on the emergence of this contradiction already. What I aim to investigate next is how close that contradiction is to becoming heightened, to the point where these imperialism-compatible elements have to give up their claim to being genuine allies of socialism’s predominant strains. The reason these types of anti-Russian actors also claim to be pro-existing socialism is because they want to be seen as credible, as assets to the effort at keeping the global communist movement unified. What will it take for them to come out as truly being opposed to this effort, or at least for more communists to recognize that any anti-Russian org is not genuinely pro-existing socialism?
The CIA and its narrative managers are trying to prevent the latter outcome, because even though they prefer that no communists support socialist countries, they at least seek to dissuade these types of communists from being pro-Russia. This is shown by how the CIA’s Voice of America has been platforming “independent journalists” (ones actually are employed by an NED-funded Cuban anti-revolutionary media outlet) who try to discredit Russia’s operation and anti-imperialist journalism from a “pro-revolution” angle. The journalist VOA has quoted says: “The actions of Russia are contrary to all the principles which the Cuban revolution stands for, like the right of the people to determine their own future; however, Cuba has denied the brutality of Russia. Reports [in the state media] talk about the 2014 democratic election [in Ukraine] as a coup d’etat.” No genuine socialist would ever dispute that the 2014 Ukraine upheaval was a coup. But the CIA’s best option is to present these “socialists” who do dispute it, because that’s the only hope for turning more socialists against Russia’s operation.
Amid these psyops designed to stop the global communist movement from going in the direction it needs to go in to be effective, there are additional issues that can be used as ways of finding who does or doesn’t embrace this principled path. One of these issues is nuclear power. International Socialist Review, a now-defunct publishing outlet by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change, has written a polemic against nuclear energy. The essential flaw in its logic is to point to the inefficiencies and dysfunction of nuclear energy as it exists within the profit-fixated capitalist countries, then conclude that nuclear power programs must be dismantled everywhere. China has proven that the innovations in nuclear over the past generation have been enough to make this type of power source a safe one, at least when it’s facilitated by a government that isn’t controlled by corporate interests. As well as that nuclear is a way to transition away from fossil fuels which doesn’t come with the self-undermining complications that other “green” power sources often entail.
Solar and wind have also improved in their environmental compatibility over the decades, but there’s a reason why the PRC has so heavily implemented nuclear, rather than dogmatically shun it like these types of socialists would prefer it to do. It’s because nuclear represents an alternative to the “green” model the capitalists offer, where we would have to greatly reduce our living standards compared to the ways neoliberalism has already harmed the global working class. China is showing we don’t have to accept the austerity dystopia that capital is trying to impose upon us. A dystopia whose relationship to the inflation crisis and America’s ongoing deindustrialization was observed this week by Alastair Crooke:
It will be the first time in history that anyone has bet so heavily on tech, over energy. Never before has such redundancy of the existing energy infrastructure (and its loss of value) been seriously contemplated. And – never before – has efficient energy infrastructure been scrapped, to be replaced with new Green structures that are less efficient (see here and here as two examples), less reliable, and more expensive. It is the first time in history that such an investment has been made at this scale. That makes everything more expensive, harder, and less efficient. It is a recipe for further embedding inflation and economic degradation. Truly, it is to sail against howling headwinds. How will this infrastructure be financed? The Free Money era is behind us; fiscal cost is now REAL cost. Degraded efficiency, reliability and friction will then meet and contend with upcoming EU Net Zero ideology, with Climate becoming the pretext for introducing radical restrictions on ways of living. In the US, financialisation of the economy was supposed to extend western economic primacy. It did for a while, but ultimately financialised products ballooned, sucking dry the real economy that produced things, and employed people productively.
International Socialist Review (and by extension the CERS with its ongoing projects in publications like Haymarket) supports its dogmatic anti-nuclear thesis by claiming that those “green” structures the high-tech capitalist class prefers are in fact fully capable of supporting a prosperous society. They deny the empirical data showing wind too often fails, lithium batteries alone can’t be relied upon, and net-zero carbon means higher interest rates under capitalism (as the links within that quote respectively show). They defend the less effective alternative energy options because fundamentally, they’re opposed to the developmental model that China has created. Due to their purity fetish, they don’t view China as truly socialist, and have thereby rejected any climate solutions that don’t involve further impoverishing the proletariat. China has provided the answer to the problem Crooke speaks to, showing it’s possible to reach net zero without austerity. Yet many of the types of socialists who are anti-Russia refuse to embrace this answer, pretending that their anti-nuclear stance can be reconciled with socialism’s desire for uplifting working people.
This rejection of the lessons from actual developmental projects is what the argument behind degrowth depends on. Even bourgeois analysts have come to recognize that growth doesn’t have to mean emissions can’t be reduced. As The Economist has observed:
Over the past decade a growing number of countries—33 by The Economist’s count, home to over 1bn people—have managed to increase their gdp while reducing their emissions. After a peak in 2007 America reduced its territorial emissions from 6.13bn tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent to 5.26bn before the pandemic. And that is not because Americans are simply importing their toys and electronics from dirtier places. Strikingly, consumption emissions, which include a measure of the carbon embedded in imports, have fallen by 15% over the same period.
Decoupling is largely a result of two big shifts. One is the changing structure of economies. As countries became richer they expanded their service sectors, which use less energy than manufacturing. In Britain, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, four-fifths of output is now generated by accountants, shop assistants and other service workers. Even in Germany, famed for its industrial prowess, manufacturing’s share of gdp is falling. That has reduced the energy intensity of growth. Second, imports are getting greener. In the decade after the financial crisis, China’s export sector decarbonised faster than the rest of its economy. This has helped reduce the total carbon footprint of rich countries. Furthermore, manufacturing is shifting out of China, which is more polluting, per dollar of gdp, than India or Indonesia. This decoupling is unambiguously good news. But, with the link unbroken in many poorer countries, it has not been enough to reduce the pace of increase in global emissions. The task is therefore to speed up decoupling. That will not only demonstrate that tackling climate change and improving living standards can go together; it will also allow poorer parts of the world to use more of the remaining global carbon budget to get richer.
What this will look like in a socialist version of what we now call the “United States” is re-industrialization in the areas where this is necessary for bringing up living standards, and a foreign policy that ceases all of Washington’s present aggressions towards China while not re-creating the exploitative relationship Americans have had with the Chinese. Being a socialist society will mean having to rely upon the wealth and goods we build through our own labor, and by the time socialism comes to America, China will regardless have built up its productive forces enough to afford not to be a low-wage foreign manufacturing hub. This is already happening with the transfer of Washington’s Asian manufacturing base from China to Vietnam, and with the lack of ability of Washington’s sanctions to do serious damage towards China’s economy. Because U.S. corporations sold their productive forces to China, the PRC has become more than strong enough to survive the new cold war.
As our ruling class reacts to its loss in the great-power competition by transferring the costs of its crisis onto America’s own workers, we can take comfort in how when we seize power, we’ll have a powerful socialist developmental model to follow. But to get this victory, we must be principled in our anti-imperialism, and not follow the advice of those who give the workers movement bad counsel.