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Rainer Shea

Jan 5, 2024

The way that we interpret Russia’s special military operation, and the events surrounding it, is going to determine how we wage the class struggle throughout the post-Ukraine war era. There’s a pessimistic view of these developments, and an optimistic one, with the latter being what we need in order to prevail.

​The pessimistic interpretation has been adopted by those who Parenti called the “pure” socialists, the ones who apply standards to anti-imperialists which can’t be met. They say that Russia’s decision to defy the U.S. empire represents nothing besides a loss for the international proletarian movement, because the government that undertook the operation in Ukraine is a capitalist one. They focus entirely on the ways in which the imperialist countries have reacted to Russia’s actions, directing attention towards the increased arming of Europe, the harm the conflict has brought upon working people, and the expansion of NATO. Those are essentially the only accurate observations the pure socialists make about the issue; often they put forth claims that aren’t even based in fact. Many of them try to argue that Russia is an imperialist power, which is an idea too unsound for serious Marxists to accept. For this reason, the most effective among these anti-Russian leftists have not tried to make that argument, and merely made more broad statements about how war is bad.

The optimistic interpretation is one that provides the context which the pessimistic left ignores. It recognizes that on the geopolitical chessboard, the side of the imperialists has only been able to take a couple pawns during the last two years, while the side of the anti-imperialists has been able to take several crucial pieces. As the world has been forced by this operation to choose between Washington and the Russia/China/Iran bloc, the vast majority of countries have in effect embraced the latter. 

The rise of the Belt and Road Initiativede-dollarization, and the alienation of the Global South from Washington have been accelerated by this great catalyzing event. This has made the hegemon’s challengers better equipped to build an economy that’s independent from the imperialist bloc. At the same time, the internal collapse of the imperialist countries has been sped up by the sanctions blowback. The trend is undeniable: whereas the monopoly capitalists are seeing their economic order come closer to its death because of Russia’s action, the states which seek to construct a new world have become safer from the sanctions the monopolists place on them. Aside from the imperative which existed for Russia to stop the ethnic cleansing efforts of the Ukrainian fascists, this is reason enough for anti-imperialists to back what Russia has been doing. 

While the depletion of Ukraine’s manpower has come ever closer to the point where Kiev can’t keep fighting in the same way, and it’s become even more apparent that Ukraine won’t ever achieve its goal of taking back the eastern territories, another aspect of this story has gotten clearer. An aspect that gives us a reason to view these developments as not only a win for anti-imperialism, but an indication that communism is getting closer to making up for its great loss over thirty years ago. This is the recent story in which Russia’s economy has come to better resemble a socialist one.

As more time passes since the start of the operation, and the old Yelstin neoliberal model becomes untenable, this trend gets more pronounced. The thinking of the country’s leadership on nationalization has been changing in ways that we likely couldn’t have anticipated during the operation’s initial months. For example: whereas in 2022, Russian officials said they lacked desire to nationalize the foreign firms, in 2023 they did exactly that. 

This is only an addition to the nationalizations the country had begun undergoing at a much faster pace right after February 2022. And the implications of this trend shouldn’t be dismissed, like the pessimistic left wants us to do. These nationalizations mean that there’s a practical mandate for Russia to reverse the neoliberal restructuring which the Soviet Union’s dissolution brought upon the country. And that if the bourgeois government doesn’t do a good enough job of reversing the harms created by that great catastrophe, the country will be forced into a new stage within its anti-imperialist journey.

For the moment, the country’s ruling class is maneuvering to make it so that the nationalizations go along with measures to advance their own material interests. This ironically involves privatization in areas other than Russia’s primary sectors; as analyst Ekaterina Kurbangaleeva observes, it’s an attempt to stabilize Russian capitalism by giving the middle class greater benefits: “The middle layer of Russia’s social structure will be shaped by the redistribution of assets among those well-off Russians forced to focus on the domestic market by international sanctions. In return for their loyalty, they will receive high-quality assets at a significant discount, which may turn them into a pillar of the regime and a source of patriotic optimism and even radicalism. There could even be a ‘people’s privatization,’ in which the wealthy are awarded minority stakes in state companies. Much will depend on the avoidance of catastrophe on the Ukrainian front, the continued apathy of the public sector, and the success of Russia’s pivot to Asia. Yet the effect could be to extend the regime’s lifespan—and it may well even enable a transition of power down the road.”

The pessimistic leftists see this, and interpret it as meaning that assisting the transition to multipolarity has no value for the class struggle. That’s the position we see being advanced by all the socialist formations which have opposed the special operation: because Russia’s present government acts upon the class interests of the bourgeoisie, supposedly all of Russia’s contributions towards weakening U.S. hegemony are lacking in any value. This view is based within the unserious vision which these strains of leftism have for what revolution looks like. Whether in Russia or elsewhere, they don’t want any country’s revolutionary process to have contradictions. They don’t want it to involve people who aren’t necessarily communists, or who are part of the old government, or who have a bourgeois class background. 

It’s ironic that these same idealistically minded people often at the same time support Chinese socialism. Because China was only able to become socialist after undergoing a revolution that involved all of those ideological impurities. That’s how all of history’s workers revolutions have been to varying degrees. To succeed, they’ve needed to include the same kinds of individuals Russia is cultivating: people who have special leverage over history due to their positions, and who’ve become radicalized in a way which makes them revolutionary-compatible. 

When the next moment of regime transition in Russia comes, doesn’t it seem plausible that those radical elements of the middle class will work towards shifting the country in a more revolutionary direction? This is the only direction things can now realistically go for Russia, because following the Ukraine operation, it’s had to commit to anti-imperialism out of self-preservation. With how intense the sanctions have become, if Russia were to betray China it wouldn’t be able to survive. The Russian pivot to Asia is permanent, and is a crucial part of Russia’s path back to socialism.

The ultra-lefts who oppose the progress that Russia is making want revolutions to conform to their idealistic, or rather unrealistic, idea of what it means to win the class war. They believe that the communist movement can win in America, while exclusively trying to build a base among left-liberals. And they make the equivalent mistake while interpreting the conditions of Russia. Of course the ultras don’t believe the Russian social forces that have been driving the special operation are valuable to the country’s class struggle. Of course they don’t see the country’s pivot to Asia as representing any kind of progress. For every country, the revolutionary diagnoses they come up with aren’t based within a realistic assessment of the given conditions. They come from a desire for ideological purity that renders somebody unable to have a meaningful effect on history.

To achieve victory for socialism, we in the empire’s core must reject such dogmatic opportunism. We must reach everyone in our society who’s revolution-compatible, while uniting with all the peoples abroad who are contributing to the anti-imperialist struggle.

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