By Kahlil Wall-Johnson – May 22, 2022
The “inter-imperialist camp,” as it has been called, has dedicated itself to painting the Ukraine conflict strictly in terms of inter-imperialist struggle. In their dedication to this interpretation, they have committed to a series of surprisingly extravagant claims, some of which I intend to gather here and hold up to the light. However, it is this camp’s total lack of scruples, specifically when it comes to their sources, that has compelled me to object. Having said this, I find it necessary to reassure the reader that what follows is not (unlike the pieces being critiqued) a rant on how we ought to interpret Lenin’s Imperialism, or even really an attempt to engage with theory. Nor is it a detailed comparison of the role of the US and Russia in the world-system. There is no need to repeat the many articles which have rebutted these claims and contrasted the specific nature of US imperialism to Chinese or Russian foreign policy and trade. Rather, what I am trying to scrape at here is their lazy and offensive attitude towards their sources; an attitude that is repeatedly criticized by the very authors they cite!
Interestingly, it is these individuals’ familiarity with many of the contours of US imperialism that has provided them with a premade template to project onto Russia’s behavior. This has led them to defend certain claims, which at times, even surpass those of the US corporate media. As teaser of what is to come, the figures of whom we are speaking write that “Ukranians are not oppressing Russians” and that “when Putin likens this behavior to genocide, he takes a page from the execrable Adrian Zenz” while going on to speak of “a Russian empire of lies,” and its plagiarism of the US “doctrine of humanitarian interventionism.”
Let us begin with a recent piece titled “Is Russia an imperialist country?’—That’s not the right question to ask?” by a certain Greg Godels. The only potential merit that should be granted the author is that of almost taking a look at the idea of multipolarity through a historical perspective. There is a point to be made. Multipolarity is indeed an abstract concept; without a concrete analysis of the emerging poles, it is not necessarily desirable, nor, as he argues, anti-imperialist in the Leninist sense. Then there is also the problem of the extent to which the world can even reach, or stabilize at, a point of mutually independent sovereign states or empires. This could lead to the subsequent question of whether multipolarity—a potentially ambiguous buzzword, enjoyed principally in foreign policy documents and by foreign correspondents—is even an adequate tool through which to understand economic, military and political history. There is potential here for a rich debate. In fact, it has certainly already begun to take place. Unfortunately, after pointing out the abstract character of the principle at hand, Godels drifts further away from any potential concrete analysis to declare that, since multipolarity isn’t inherently anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist, today’s emerging world isn’t either and, most importantly, doesn’t deserve any support. What makes him think that multipolarity is being supported as an abstract principle, universally valid throughout history? Why assume we are not taking stock of actuality?
Laying claim to what Lenin would be saying of the present, Godels and others assume the all too familiar this-is-what-you-need-to-know-about-Ukraine tone. The Bolshevik leader is quoted relentlessly, leaving us no doubt as to whether or not they have read him. When not busy copy and pasting, their writing is completely devoid of the concrete analysis, so beloved by Lenin, which might back their inter-imperialist reading of the war in Ukraine. These pieces range from directly labeling Russia as an imperialist power, to more diffuse readings of Lenin in which Imperialism is presented as a project in which all capitalist states participate, regardless of their position in the hierarchy of national economies, and less as a trait circumscribed to certain powers. Regardless of the path chosen, at the end of the day Russia, and China, are irrevocably implicated in the imperialist project and any opportunities or potential that we might expect to be perceived by a self-described marxist-leninist in the weakening of the US empire, are dismissed on the grounds that the immanent multipolar world, of which Russia is often cast as the sole representative, is tainted by capitalism, or “enmeshed” in imperialism. In fact, these disciples of Lenin explicitly argue against the decline of the US empire representing an opportunity at all, reserving their support for a metaphysical parallel dimension in which they run simulations of a “radical change” pure enough for their ideals.
Beyond these moralistic arguments, history is marching forward—whether these Marxist-Leninists give it the greenlight or not. Despite their nostalgia for the “radical socialists” who “tried to adapt to reality,” their stream of revolutionary rhetoric rings hollow if it is out of rhythm with these developments. Even their source of identity—Lenin and his contemporaries—, while condemning WWI, actively factored its aftermath, a weakened capitalist core, into their calculations (‘the war to end all wars’). Even they recognized the objective nature of the forces at work; the war could not be detained—denounced? Yes, but only as a symptom of the system. Unlike these earnest, ethical interventions, echoing from the inter-imperialist camp demanding that “Russia must immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine and cease interfering in Ukrainian affairs,” while “The United States and its satellites must do the same,” Lenin’s pamphlets well above today’s anti-war petitions.
Before getting too bogged down in particular claims, we would be wise to catch the implicit assumption by which those who do not condemn Russia are supporting, or in favor of the conflict in some way. This is a particularly frustrating depiction of things, especially for those of us who were weary of it prior to February 24. Enough has been written on the series of events that led up to this moment; a series of events, which when considered in their totality, make condemnation of Russia a very stubborn task. The tragedy of the occasion is beyond question, yet beyond this fact, the inter-imperialist camp has shown remarkably little interest in both the specific events that led up to February 24, and the global consequences of a favorable or unfavorable outcome for Russia. Moreover, when the scope of US aggression, encirclement and even entrapment towards Russia is admitted to, they turn around and refuse to consider the gravity of these threats on a military or security level, insisting that it was merely the profit motives of Russian billionaires. Of course, that billionaires in Russia have faced choppy waters, or that the communist party of Russia supports, and called for, their country’s intervention, is deemed irrelevant, or in the latter case potential class treason. In any case, when one seeks to understand the series of events that led up to Russia’s intervention, as opposed to grafting Lenin quotes onto preconceptions, it is hard to think of what Russia could have done to avoid this outcome. These Marxist-Leninists should not be expected to share in Putin’s disavowal of socialism, however, his disdain for Soviet-era allocations of Russian-majority territories to Ukraine (Crimea, Eastern Ukraine) is not unfounded given the current circumstances.
It should also be understood that the present critique is neither directed at the general practice of recourse to Lenin, nor is it intended to rescue him from misuse. Rather, what we are taking aim at is this perspective, passed off as the work of “a good marxist” and “a good historian” (yes, these are real quotes), according to which the present situation would be best understood solely by drawing on literature from, and comparisons with, the early 20th century. Thus Godels repeatedly tells us that “The demise of the Soviet Union has freed the hand of imperialism, producing a world substantially congruent with early-twentieth-century imperialism.“ or that “Twenty-first-century imperialism shares more features with the imperialism of Lenin’s time than differences.” It is an interesting way of proceeding, in which both the past and the present must be significantly distorted, or selectively read, so as to resemble each other, while the differences between the two epochs are only admitted to insofar as “‘New’ great powers replaced or changed places with the line-up active in Lenin’s time.” Before poking any holes in this way of thinking, we might ask the representatives of this trend how they find it presentable to ignore the many contributions made to the field since the days of Lenin, and especially in the wake of Bretton Woods or the breakup of the USSR. Lenin is no doubt a starting point, sure, but how is it passable to present his diagnosis from 1916 as the bulk, if not entirety, of one’s contemporary perspective?
Let us take a look at another claim shared by Godels and some of his comrades in arms: “the attempt to impose multipolarity upon a world saddled with the domination of the British Empire was a critical factor leading to World War I,” which he invokes as a sort of cautionary tale against the dangers of welcoming multipolarity. We might start by asking if it is appropriate to compare the dominance of Britain, or the sterling zone, to that of the American Century and dollar hegemony, especially given the considerable independence of other pre-WWI powers (the Monroe Doctrine being almost a century old). Does a war, which saw the US begin to impose unipolarity, qualify as an attempt to impose multipolarity? Or perhaps, even more to the point, is it not a clumsy anachronism to impose the notion of multipolarity on the colonial world of 1916, which openly embraced imperialist ideology; a world, which regardless of the internal power struggles of Western Europe, was largely dominated by a community of states which for many decades operated as a coalition of colonial powers (i.e. the scramble for Africa)? Can a parallel really be drawn between the Axis powers’ struggle for colonies, and China and Russia’s foreign policy? Apparently so, as we shall see later. Formal similarities aside, must we ignore the particularites of each epoch so thoroughly for the sake of this parallel? In any case, this strained analogy requires both events to be warped to the extent that it is difficult to conceive of how one could aid in understanding the other, and immediately becomes problematic when we compare the contending powers of WWI and those of today. I can only wonder what a truly “good historian” would make of all this.
Regarding the dismissal of multipolarism, it should be noted that this argument depends on Russia, caricatured as a “ravaged former socialist state now owned by mega-billionaires”—with no legitimate security concerns, or internal class struggles, of her own—being cast as the sole representative of an emerging polispheric world. Accordingly, to the extent that the US empire’s decline is cautioned against on the grounds of Russia’s existence, China and other nations struggling against US dominance must either be denounced as capitalist, or be swept under the carpet for the sake of convenience. In the case of the Godels’ piece we have been focusing on, he opts for a mix of the two: the author’s sole reference to modern China is the following isolated statement: “PRC’s impressive entry into the global capitalist economy and subsequent remarkable growth threatens US hegemony, creating intensified competition and tensions.” Thus, far from being an alternative to US dominance, China is portrayed in an almost dangerous light, and is referred to on the sly via its initials (maybe we were supposed to forget about it). The same could be said of this brave theoretician’s declaration that without the USSR, the “the most viable economic scaffold for independent development outside of the imperialist system was eliminated.” We can only assume that the Belt and Road Initiative is either a touch too imperialist for his liking, or that he was hoping we would fail to remember.
Within this logic, the history leading up to Russia’s intervention is pounded into the mold of early 20th-century inter-imperialist competition; an act reminiscent of the “baroque conviction” (p. 293) criticized by Gramsci, and echoed by Losurdo, wherein one becomes more orthodox by seeing the world solely through the lense of economic incentive. In this particular case, the state is nothing more than the administrative branch of capital. As the latter noted, this reductionism “simplifies and flattens the complexity of historical and social processes.” Accordingly, these orthodox marxists, while fully aware of the unilateral nature of US aggression, reduce the war to a question of “whose billionaires are more important to you? The US’s or Russia’s?” Yet history has shown us that military concerns can reach existential levels, upon which the lens of economic incentives becomes relatively inadequate to understand the behavior of states: think of the Cuban missile crisis, or even the arms race from the perspective of the USSR. As Gustavo Bueno put it, the dialectic of class is incomplete without the dialectic of states. One need only remember the conviction of Michael Hudson, or other analysts, that Russia’s motives were primarily of a military nature. This is not to deny that economic outcomes were not factored in; the point is that they start to warp the picture when other factors are disregarded. Likewise, to assert that security concerns can reach existential levels is not to provide a cover story for Russia’s deeper imperialist ambitions. Although it should be said that the instantaneous rejection by many leftists of this particular casus belli is certainly linked to the desensitizing effect of US imperialism. Unfortunately, Godels and his comrades have gone as far as to declare that “Russia is mimicking US policy” and “the doctrine of humanitarian interventionism,” showing very little care for the history of Ukraine or the scope of the US empire.
Of course the trajectory of Russia’s billionaires must be considered, all of this is not meant to absolve them of their misdeeds, quite the opposite. The point is that, in reducing the conflict to the rivalry of two capitalist systems, there is no analysis of the particular development of capitalism in Russia as a creation of US imperialism. It is almost ignored that the people of Russia are more at war with US imperialism than they are with the billionaires of Russia. In fact the latter are its children! Given the havoc wreaked on Russia upon US penetration, it is insulting to write off the exploitation and suffering of the Russian working class as the doing of endogenous billionaires; the people are just as much the victims of US imperialism, while the billionaires are indebted to it. We might add that it was the very moderate limits the Russian state began to impose on its vulnerability and on the looting of its resources that led the US to escalate. Regardless of where you look, the history of this conflict does not agree with these heavily ideological distortions.
Similarly, this rigid, inter-imperialistic reading of Russia’s behavior comes hand in hand with assertion that this war is wholly detrimental to the Russian working class; a view most expounded by a presumed associate of Godels, Nikos Mottas. Here he speaks with remarkable confidence, hailing the stance of the Russian Communist Workers’ Party (RCWP) in opposition to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, which is charged with having sold out. Clearly, there can be no mention of the fact that working class Russians have relatives in the war-torn regions of Ukraine, or that the ‘indivisibility of security’ against US aggression is in the interest of working class Russians as well. But even in the statements of the RCWP to which they refer, we find a much more tentative perspective than the one extracted by these ideologues, in fact, certain sentences are deceptively cited, ignoring the context of the broader argument. Yes, the statement is titled “No to fascism, no to imperialist war!,” and does go on to declare that “We have no doubts that the true aims of the Russian state in this war are quite imperialistic—to strengthen the position of imperialist Russia in world market competition,” yet, the very next sentence specifies that “since this struggle today to some extent helps the people of Donbass to repulse Bandera fascism, the communists in this part of it do not deny, but allow and support as much as it is waged against fascism in the Donbass and Ukraine.” The statement is adamant in its support for the intervention, going so far as to regret that “it happened late, much later than it should have” and stressing that “As long as Russia’s armed intervention helps save people in the Donbass from reprisals by punishers, we will not oppose this goal. In particular, we consider it acceptable if, due to circumstances, it is necessary to use force against the fascist Kyiv regime, insofar as this will be in the interests of the working people.” Compared to Mottas, the authors of this statement seem to take the issue of nazism rather seriously!
Most notably, the statement contains no denouncement of Russia’s actions so far, quite the opposite, and repeatedly stresses the need to watch attentively for a potential predatory turn. Disappointingly, here Mottas deceptively confirms his thesis by pasting the last sentence of the second-to-last paragraph: “Not the masters but the workers will die on both sides. To die for class brothers is worthy, but to die and kill for the interests of the masters is stupid, criminal and unacceptable,” omitting that the first sentence is a conditional clause discussing “the possibility of the military campaign of assistance to the Donbass from Russia… developing into a truly completely predatory war,” in which case “We will regard this as a war of conquest.”
Indeed, the statement assumes the aforementioned diffuse definition of imperialism, however its criticism of recent events is deeply measured, and it problematizes its own framework. Both the statement and Mottas agree that the true source of the conflict was not humanitarian, yet while the latter emphasizes its inter-imperialist nature to indict Russia, the statement is open in its identification of US aggression, even citing the revival of fascism! Interestingly, what we find in the RCWP statement is well beyond the moralistic logic of the inter-imperialist camp, as they explicitly posit the possibility of recognizing that Russia is implicated in imperialism, while insisting on supporting their countries actions so far in Ukraine! Thus, contrary to Mottas and co, they are aligned with the diagnostic and tactical dimension of Lenin’s work, as opposed to turning to him for an ethical guide on what can, or cannot be, supported. The piece actually justifies its support for its country, which it nevertheless defines as having imperialistic motives. Is this to say that in certain cases we must choose between nations with imperialistic elements? Must the puritans recant their support for this statement as well? In any case, I recommend that the reader skim over the short statement, if only to grasp the extent to which it has been distorted.
As if that weren’t enough, Mottas then fixes his gaze on the Communist Party of Spain (PCE), which certainly deserves to be criticized for a great many of its positions and policies. However in this case, the PCE’s calling for “the dissolution of NATO” is ridiculed as hypocrisy simply because the PCE has formed a small part of the coalition government for the past several years. Apparently government officials are hypocritical if they criticize state policy. By this logic, one wonders just what exactly politicians are expected to do. He presumably sent the PCE an email in which he told them that if they wanted his support, they must resign and resort to blogging as the sole means of expressing political views.
Another case study in this tendency is Stephen Gowans who, it should be noted, cites Domenico Losurdo and appears to hold him in high esteem. The latter will be of use here, frequently, as a considerable portion of his work is dedicated to questioning the very same current in which the inter-imperialist camp finds itself (or fails to find itself, but can be found we should say). As with the previous statement, we will quote him to great length, not out of deference but rather to display the total lack of scruples of those who twist his work to their ends.
Gowans incurs in the same logic described earlier: China and Russia are branded as capitalist (leaving little to no room for distinctions between economic structures with vastly different magnitudes and dynamics), and equated with the US. Then their rivalry with the US is reduced to inter-capitalist competition and, voila, conflated with imperialism. Given this disdain for all “competitive actions” and self-interest on behalf of states (his telltale signs of imperialism) we can only guess that he would feel more comfortable with other nations if they offered no competition at all to the US and hermetically sealed themselves off from international trade. One can only wonder if these individuals consider the USSR’s foreighn policy to have been completely devoid of competition and self-service? Or maybe socialism has never existed for them, except in Cuba maybe, where the blockade has kept them pure from market forces. They must prefer their socialists “poor but beautiful;” a position which Losurdo repeatedly attacks and condemns in his many responses to this very same rejection of contemporary Chinese policy.
As you will soon see, the extent to which Gowans so perfectly embodies a number of positions which Losurdo disapproves of is comical. Gowans’ ideas are wholly incompatible with the Losurdo book he quotes, and hasn’t read or has intentionally disregarded the Italian philosopher’s work on China or Stalin, where Losurdo shows himself to be one of the most forthright defenders of ‘socialism with chinese characteristics.’ But above all, Losurdo’s work is largely a critical assessment of the millenarian hopes for the “end to classes and states altogether” or the transcendence of polarity in a “nonpolar” world (“the very essence of Marxism” we are reassured); themes so ubiquitous, and very much alive, in Gowans’ rants.
There is something very immaterial about this discomfort with multipolarity. It seems to bother these people that some states are bigger than others, or that even socialist states have to compete for spheres of influence. They seem to object to the fact that the world will always be polarized to a certain degree. Yet, a world where these imbalances don’t exist is a metaphysical experiment, and there is great reason to hope that the dynamics of Chinese, and even Russian, foreign engagement constitute a break from the extremely predatory lineage of western europe and the US. Of course, if Russia and China take a predatory turn in their foreign policy, then they must be critiqued. We are not so blinded by our irrational desire to see the US empire fall.
Gowans is perhaps the most explicit representative of the tendency we have been describing. In his obsession with critiquing those who associate imperialism today with the unipolar role of the US, he writes that his own view is “more complex” because it “follows the lines” of Hilferding, Bukharin and Lenin, while he repeatedly defines imperialism as a “system of rivalry”. Does this mean that in the 90’s, amidst the “end of history”—when rivalry, be it inter-capitalist or Cold War-esque, had largely subsided—that imperialism had slipped into the shadows as well? In any case, this lense of imperialism-as-rivalry begins to lose credence after WWI (unless the USSR is read as imperialist as well). Most alarmingly, he then goes on to complain that the position he is attacking is “at odds with the model developed by the three Marxists cited above.” This is worth ruminating on for a moment. For Gowans, it is an inconsistency that a diagnosis of the year 2022 does not correspond to that of 1916! This is the bizarre anti-historical attitude we have been trying to provide a portrait of. Then, Gowans, in the same piece from which we have been quoting, moves on to the same pre-WWI parallels that Godels had gotten so excited about. Although in this case we are told that understanding contemporary imperialism vis-a-vis the US, and advocating for multipolarity, retroactively “excludes the Axis powers as imperialists,” rendering them anti-imperialist given their struggle against the British empire, as they too sought “their place in the sun.” Once again, apart from the work of another “good historian”, we are face to face with the same refusal of any concrete analysis.
When everything is this thoroughly abstracted and beaten to death, a number of highly reductionist parallels can be suggested: an equally imperialist Eurasian empire is set to steal the stage from the US; Russia’s struggle for the integration of regions on its border is equated to the US drive for control of the same markets; the pre-WWI struggle for the spoils of colonialism is equated to Eurasian integration. Such is the extent to which they scour their brains for symmetries, casting things as a good ol’ fashion imperial tug-of-war.
There is something unforgivable about this apathy, or even reluctance, shown towards the decline of the US empire, the scandals of which we know all too well. The leveraging of these forced symmetries, this insistence that Russia and China are of the same category as the US, the childish attempts to monopolize Lenin or Marx, it rings like more of a fickle provocation than any serious attempt to dabble in history or theory. China and Russia’s concrete terms of engagement are apparently irrelevant, their competition only harboring the dangers of war. There is almost this assumption that the US would ever loosen its grip without a fight! It is absurd how emerging powers are reprimanded for their militarism, as if the only thing holding the US back were not the fear of its own destruction.
It must be fun for this clique to speculate from their position of ideological purity, digging their feet in and demanding a nonpolar, stateless, classless world. Better yet: a paradigm change; a competition-free, altruistic awakening; a revolutionary break with this imperialism-is-everywhere world. Have they been reading foucault? Nevertheless this leisure is not possible for those of us who are confronting the actual historical conjunctions offered to us. In fact, it is worrisome that they did not walk away from Lenin with any appreciation for concrete analysis, and clearly were not influenced by his more tactically oriented works (i.e. Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder; What is to be Done?). Yet, if we were to assume this diffuse notion of imperialism, one could only wish, for example, that Russia had been more imperialist in Gaddafi’s Libya. Their current state of affairs is certainly less desirable than that of the liberated territories of Syria. Yet almost expectedly, this stark contrast is downplayed on the basis that Syria is a Russian “vassal.” Predictably, the areas “ruled” by Russia are put on an equal footing with the ones controlled by “US,” “Turkish” and “Israeli” forces.
Dedicated as they are to this dismissal of imperialist Russia, the representatives of this camp cling to Lenin’s emphasis that there is no formula through which to identify imperialism. It is here where Gowans believes he has found something to adapt to his project in Losurdo, who we are told ”challenges a commonly held misconception that the Bolshevik leader’s understanding of imperialism can be reduced to a checklist of characteristics that define individual states”. But even this clarification is decontextualized and betrayed: far from rejecting the notion of an imperialist checklist in favor of a historically situated approach like that of Lenin’s, they have reverted to a criterion of their own, which happens to be the loosest, most free-floating one available. In short, any activity bearing an element of competition or self-interest, any integration with capitalist markets, constitutes a sign of imperialism. On the other hand, while admitting to the fluidity of his parameters, Lenin built his analysis through the diagnosis of the scale of foreign investments, colonial possessions, superprofits, the merging of private capital, industry and government, etc; that is the specific heritage of the US, EU and NATO. While these authors attempt to untie imperialism from this lineage, moving towards the universal criteria mentioned above, they draw on, or attempt to hold on to, all of the imagery and scandals—the emotional thud—of the definition of imperialism they are distancing themselves from! As if the two were one and the same; as if the imperialism they try to tap into or harness for their denunciations could be reduced to the elements of capitalism, self-interest and international competition which they have detected in China and Russia!
We must remember that the parameters of imperialism must have a degree of flexibility; they must be historical. This is the precondition to be able to recognize modern imperialism as such. Nobody in 1916 could have predicted the evolution of capitalism. Indeed, how could one have foreseen global dollar hegemony? Or a deindustrialized, imperialist core in the US and western europe? The list goes on. Having recognized this, it is highly deceptive to argue that what Lenin was describing could be reduced to things such as integration in international markets, or competition and self-interest, as his work was an acutely historically-situated diagnosis of a specific phase of capitalism, a necessary stepping stone to understand the present, yes, but also insufficient for this purpose. It is equally deceptive if there is no distinction between the vastly different things being equated under the same umbrella, yet this is precisely what they strive to do. The inertia of their commitment to this argument requires them to gloss over the facts. In their extravagance they stoop irretrievably low, warning those who disagree that, besides Lenin turning in his grave, they may be class traitors. Yes, here they finally show their true colors, inadvertently lecturing vast swathes of the “confused” or “ignorant” multitudes who are not of the same mind.
Amidst these tirades against a “very capitalist China” and a Russia no “less an imperialist state than the United States,” Gowans attempts to invoke Losurdo, who is no longer with us to set the record straight. Fortunately, his work leaves little room for interpretation regarding his compatibility with his hijackers’ project. For example, in the online translation of his book on Stalin, on page 293 we find his frustration with the fact that “In analyzing international relations there are those who consider themselves to be the foremost champions of anti-imperialism by expanding as much as possible their list of imperialist countries; all of them put on the same level!;” a conviction which he punctuates several lines later with Togliatti’s famous remark that “one of the fundamental points of our revolutionary strategy, is our ability to understand, at any given moment, who is the principal enemy and to concentrate all our strength against that enemy.”
Yet we need not look any further than the very same book from which Gowans cites to encounter that on page 303, “China is the country that more than any other is challenging the international division of labour imposed by colonialism and imperialism, and furthering the end of the Columbian epoch—a fact of enormous, progressive historical significance.” Again, let’s not forget that Gowans has decided any support for China or Russia—”baby imperialisms” as he eloquently puts it—constitutes “little more than a mental illness.” He clearly has no reservations about drawing on the wisdom of the mentally ill when he stumbles across an isolated sentence that serves his mission.
Losurdo goes on, directly addressing this debate when he remarks that “Today, in the advanced capitalist countries even the intellectual culture influenced by Marx finds it hard to include the struggle to shake off ‘political annexation’ (Lenin) or the ‘political yoke’ (Guevara), to repel military aggression, in the category of emancipatory class struggles. The refusal to interpret endeavors to end ‘economic’ annexation (Lenin) or the ‘imperialist economic yoke’, and to foil ‘economic aggression’ (Guevara), in terms of class struggle, is prejudicial, ” (p. 291) and repeatedly returns to the fact that “Lenin had no hesitation in affirming that ‘[i]n a genuinely national war, the words ‘defence of the fatherland’ are not a deception and we are not opposed to it .’” Anyone acquainted with Losurdo is aware that his entire work is pervaded by a treatment of the national question that completely transcends the level of thought we are critiquing. For someone in Gowans’ camp, it would take a certain degree of clumsiness or bad faith not to see oneself in the crosshairs of Losurdo’s critique. Let’s just hope he didn’t make it that far in the book.
As a means of distancing ourselves from the particular focus of this debate, the following Losurdo excerpts tap even deeper into the general state of detachment and confusion of this camp. In criticizing a certain familiar outlook, Losurdo, in Hegel and the Freedom of Moderns, writes of “the difficult balance between the legitimation of modernity and its critical evaluation, a balance that characterizes Marx and that Marx himself inherited from Hegel” and notes the former’s awareness of “those who, when faced with difficult situations and the failure of certain ideals, first of all confirm their ‘inner sincerity’ and assume the ‘halo of honest intentions” (2014, p. 262).
Even so, his distaste for this mindset becomes even more palpable when he recalls Engels’ jest at the “beautiful soul” who “delights itself in its on inner purity and excellence, which it narcissistically enjoys in opposition to the baseness and dullness of actuality and the world’s progress” and which upon seeing the “harshness” of reality, “withdraws in horror, and to make up for it, it is always ready to pity itself for being ‘misunderstood’ and ignored by the world;” a place in which it “always ends up making a terrible impression, not only on a political level, by demonstrating its impotence, but on a more strictly moral level, by revealing itself as soft, narcissistic, and essentially hypocritical.”
Featured image: Armchair activists in the West paint Russia as an imperialist superpower. Photo: Deccan Herald.