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You Don't Believe We're on the Eve of Destruction

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.




People all over the world are expressing outrage at Israel's war crimes and its crimes against peace. The denunciation of Israel's monstrous assault on Gaza is the more commendable in that it so sharply challenges the stance of the global political establishment. Yet, encouraging as it is to see this public opposition to Israeli brutality and lawlessness, it is in greater measure dismaying to witness the almost complete lack of attention to another site of violence—one that threatens to precipitate a cataclysm that could envelope the entire planet.

I am referring, of course, to Ukraine. In a blog post of May 4th ("How the Left Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"), I warned that:

At the present day, for the first time in over half a century, there exists the imminent possibility of open hostilities between the two countries that between them hold the overwhelming majority of the planet's nuclear weapons. At this moment the danger of all-out nuclear warfare is almost certainly greater than at any previous point in history, with the sole exception of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Yet, in stark contrast to that earlier emergency, public awareness of the fact seems essentially non-existent.

Some three months later, all of this remains true. The only change in the situation is that it has become still more desperate. In the earlier piece I suggested that it was difficult to believe that the government of the United States—still less that of Russia—could be so insanely cavalier as to wittingly steer a course towards violent conflict between their countries. I noted, however, that there was a very real risk that escalating internal violence in Ukraine could create political conditions that made it all but impossible for Vladimir Putin not to intervene directly, and that if this transpired it would almost certainly lead to a shooting war between Russia and NATO.

Since then Ukrainian shells have begun landing on Russian soil, latterly with fatal results. A couple of days after one such incident resulted in the death or wounding of several people in Russia, the US military circulated a report asserting that Ukraine had been hit by munitions fired from within Russia. While this contention needs to be treated with some skepticism given the source it would hardly be shocking if it turned out to be correct. After all, as Israeli propagandists never tire of repeating: "No country in the world would allow its citizens to be made the target of rocket attacks without taking vigorous steps to defend them."

In any event, as with all aspects of the situation in Ukraine, the truth of the matter plays no role in determining the response of the United States. (Indeed, when has it ever? As George Bush, Sr., proclaimed with bracing candour in 1988: "I will never apologize for the United States—I don't care what the facts are.") Whether or not shots have been fired from Russia into Ukraine, the Pentagon and the CIA are now advancing this claim to justify drawing up protocols for providing Ukrainian forces with satellite data that would be used to track moving targets.

US officials have asserted that mobile missile batteries and other forces associated with the Donbass insurgency frequently cross the border between Russia and Ukraine. If this is true then clearly there is a high risk that fire directed against these units, even while they are on the Ukrainian side of the frontier, may stray into Russia. As noted above, Russia has already been hit on several occasions. Were this to occur again, following a decision by the White House to supply targeting information to Ukraine, the Russian government could hardly avoid interpreting this as an act of war on the part of the United States.

This is only the latest provocation in Washington's campaign, equally reckless and relentless, to heap unbearable pressure on the Putin administration. The destruction of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 provides another case in point.

Even as the news broke that MH17 had exploded over Ukraine, Washington began spinning the story that the plane had been shot down by the Donbass insurgents. This allegation has now become conventional wisdom even though Barack Obama has admitted that the US has no proof for its claim and despite the fact that the only hard evidence produced thus far has come from Russia and indicates that the Malaysian airliner was blown up by units loyal to the Kiev regime.

Bad faith is equally evident in the way Western governments have treated the MH17 crash site. The Donbass rebels granted almost immediate access to the area to Western investigators and quickly transferred the plane's black box and the bodies of its passengers to these officials. The insurgents did nothing to restrict the activity of the Western investigators but in short order Kiev announced its intention to seize control of the site. The ensuing offensive naturally made the area so dangerous that the Western officials were obliged to abandon their investigatory activity. This in turn led to the announcement that Australia and the Netherlands would, with Kiev's blessing, dispatch elements of their own armed forces to the vicinity with a view to securing the crash site.

These developments strongly suggest that it is Kiev, not the rebels, that is anxious to disrupt the investigation of what happened to flight MH17. It is also possible that Kiev's response was undertaken in consultation with Western powers to provide a pretext for them to introduce their own troops, for if the real goal was making sure that the aviation inspectors could get on with their work Washington had only to instruct Kiev to desist with its offensive. Instead Washington was well content to allow the assault to continue, paving the way for the introduction of its Dutch and Australian Trojan horse.

The MH17 episode makes clear that Washington is hellbent on escalating the tensions in Ukraine. Victoria Nuland, the US State Department’s top official for Europe and Eurasia, has openly boasted that the US spent $5 billion to procure a compliant regime in Kiev. This in itself constituted a major provocation of Moscow—but let that be. At all events, one can understand that, having made such an investment, the US would not want to see good money go to waste, and so it is hardly surprising that Washington has strongly backed Ukraine's central government against the Donbass insurgency.

This could also explain Washington's support for Kiev's extremely violent repression of the rebellion in place of any efforts to parley with the rebels. The first approach carries in its train the prospect of bringing about direct confrontation with Russia but, from a geopolitical perspective, one can just about see how Washington might prefer to take this chance rather than run the risk that negotiations between Kiev and the Donbass might tilt Ukraine back towards a less profoundly anti-Moscow line. This in itself is a point not to be passed over lightly, for what it tells us is that, for the US government, nuclear war is an acceptable contingency if that is what is required to ensure that Ukraine remains within Washington's sphere of influence.

As sobering as it is to consider that Washington is willing to pursue a policy that hazards open conflict with a country that holds the world's second largest arsenal of atomic weapons, the MH17 episode suggests that the reality is more sinister still. Since the destruction of the airliner the actions of the US government, and of its proxies in the Five Eyes and the European Union, have manifestly been designed for a single purpose: to provoke a showdown with Russia.

The accusations, without a shred of evidence, that Russia had a hand in downing MH17; the new economic sanctions levied against Russia in consequence; the war cry raised internationally by prominent media personalities known to be clients of Washington; and, as described above, the Trojan horse inserted at the crash site—none of this has anything to do with bolstering the regime in Kiev. The only possible purpose of this activity is to bring matters to a head with Moscow.

Two explanations for this policy present themselves. One, which would be criminally irresponsible but perhaps not completely insane, is that Washington is seeking regime change in Moscow, and US officials believe that if they press Russia hard enough Putin will either step down or be forced out. In this conception, US strategists do not actually want to go to war with Russia but must make a compelling show of their willingness to do so in order to frighten Moscow into installing leadership that is suitably subservient to Washington.

Even under this scenario there is a very real danger of nuclear conflict. Putin only needs to look at the fate of other recently deposed heads of state who fell foul of US aggression to see that his prospects are grim indeed if he resigns from office. Given the choice, he may be prepared to gamble on war sooner than surrender power and risk ending up like Saddam Hussein or Moammar Gaddafi. Meanwhile, as a former KGB officer, he will naturally be on his guard against a potential palace coup.

The still more frightful possibility is that Washington—or, at any rate, key elements within the US military and intelligence establishments—is consciously and actively seeking war with Russia. Such a strategy would be so obviously lunatic that there may be a tendency to dismiss the notion out of hand. Unfortunately, it is by no means implausible.

First one needs to consider the alacrity with which the US baits not only Russia but also China, a country which holds the world's third largest stockpile of atomic weapons. Can it really be that Washington is so supremely confident that it can visit any degree of humiliation on these powers without ever fearing a response?

Second, there is recent past practice. During the Cold War the US government usually contented itself with fomenting coups against leaders perceived to be insufficiently compliant. However, under the New World Order—and particularly since 9/11—Washington has adopted a different modus operandi. In Afghanistan and Iraq, e.g., the United States invaded with main force and, what is more, did so not with the straightforward aim of installing a more amenable regime but of destroying the coherence of the state as a viable entity. As long as a country remains intact there is the danger that its leader may turn against the US or be replaced by someone who does; but by creating "failed states" Washington can ensure that, for the foreseeable future, no one can marshal these countries' assets to the detriment of US strategic interests.

Russia possesses enormous petroleum reserves and commands the only nuclear arsenal that comes close to rivalling that of the United States. True, Vladimir Putin has doubtless riled Washington by not meekly assenting to the wrenching of Ukraine from Moscow's orbit. Still, even a more complaisant response would not have altered the reality that Russia is, along with China (and, for rather different reasons, Israel), unique in its ability to steer a course other than that dictated by Washington. Even were Putin chased out of office and replaced by someone more subservient to US interests there is no guarantee that this arrangement would last. After all, Putin himself was brought to power through the machinations of Boris Yeltsin, who became president thanks to the overt and covert efforts of the US government on his behalf.

US strategists are aware that the only way they can permanently remove Russia from contention is by destroying it. They have attempted to do so once already by inducing Boris Yeltsin, their man in the Kremlin, to introduce "shock therapy" capitalism, resulting in the most devastating economic contraction ever recorded by a country in peacetime—only to see all their good work go largely for naught with the subsequent boom in Russia's oil and gas industry. These events provide a pellucid demonstration that the only way to put an end to Russia's pretensions once and for all is by physically destroying the country and its massive atomic armament.

To suggest that Washington would shrink from such a course on ethical grounds is absurd. The US is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons and it did so not out of military necessity but to overawe the Soviet Union. To this day the US has a standing policy for launching a first strike nuclear assault. The more relevant consideration, of course, is that Washington might deem it imprudent to go to war with an adversary that possesses an atomic arsenal of comparable magnitude.

While on the face of it this seems an obvious objection, its validity is far from clear. For one, during the Cold War, Washington more than once signalled its intent to attack the Soviet Union if Moscow did not comply with US demands (examples include the Pakistan civil war of 1971 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973). Then, too, there is again the sheer recklessness with which Washington now routinely conducts its policy towards both Russia and China.

Edward Snowden's revelations about hacking by US government operatives may offer a clue here. Files released by Snowden confirm that the Stuxnet worm that temporarily derailed Iran's entire nuclear program (and subsequently migrated to the World Wide Web where it became an international nuisance) was created by agents of the United States and Israel. Documents released by Snowden indicate that the Five Eyes have planted similar disabling malware in the critical infrastructure of numerous countries, ready to be triggered at Washington's command.

Here, the terrifying thought that comes to mind is that the targets of this sabotage campaign might include the command and control systems for Russian and Chinese missiles. Were that so, Washington could definitely be expected to sedulously foment conflict with these countries, secure in the belief that they would be unable to deploy atomic weapons against the US. What is more, it would make sense for Washington to launch an attack sooner rather than later since the more time goes by the greater would be the chance that the US malware would be detected and neutralized.

There can be no question that Washington's Ukraine policy has created a significant and growing risk of open war between Russia and the United States. It is impossible to be sure whether this is an actual objective of US strategists or simply a chance they're willing to take, but either way this course of action is at once deranged and deeply immoral. The "mutually assured destruction" of the Cold War was equally outrageous morally but there was a kind of perverse rationality to it. The Soviet Union really did function as a rival to the United States both ideologically and by objectively limiting the degree to which the US could order world affairs as it chose. Since capitalism by its very nature can accept no limits, "better dead than Red" was in keeping with the logic of the system: for a capitalist, there is no point to a life in which you must renounce the goal of possessing everything.

In the present conjuncture, matters are altogether different. Russia is also capitalist -- it offers no challenge to the deification of "the market." Equally, Putin knows perfectly well that he has no power to contest US prerogatives abroad; as we are seeing, he is unable to control events in his own front yard. What is more, hitherto Putin has generally cooperated with Washington: e.g., by maintaining crucial supply lines for US forces in Afghanistan. In short, there is absolutely no need for Washington to have subjected Russia (and likewise China) to incessant bullying to the point that armed conflict—quite possibly with atomic weapons—has become a definite prospect.

It is difficult to fathom why Washington is willing to run the risk of setting off World War Three for the sake of seemingly nebulous benefits. The best guess would seem to be the insult offered the amour-propre of the world's "indispensable nation" by the mere existence of countries that, even if they lack the means to thwart US designs abroad, have the effrontery to remain largely sovereign in their own territory. Perhaps, too, US strategists have fallen prey to their own paranoid propaganda and seek to kill in its cradle a far distant future in which they envision an economically robust China, bolstered by Russia's formidable nuclear arsenal, being able to mount a serious challenge to the hegemony of the United States.

Such motivations might scarcely seem to warrant hazarding atomic warfare—but then again, for persons of truly sound mind, surely no reasons could ever be sufficient to justify a policy apt to bring on a nuclear conflagration. Yet the mere existence of an atomic arsenal on the scale of that maintained by the US requires that Washington strategists must constantly be "thinking the unthinkable." As Madeline Albright rhetorically asked of the US military in general, what's the point in having it if you can't use it?

If Washington's stance on Ukraine casts doubt on the sanity of US strategists, the support that US policy has received from the political establishment of the other Western countries all but defies rational explanation. It is astonishing to think that so trivial a consideration as the outraged pride of the US patriciate could inform decisions of planet-wide significance; to imagine that comprador elites could vicariously identify with such a fixation wellnigh beggars belief.

Likewise, one can just about see how US strategists, jealous in the extreme of their nation's prerogatives, could convince themselves that Russia and China, particularly in alliance, might one day emerge as real rivals to the United States, and that the best way to counter this possibility was to cut these aspirants down long before they have a chance to reach their potential. (Indeed, it is a standing strategic doctrine of the Pentagon that no country or group of countries should be allowed to become powerful enough to undermine the supremacy of the United States in the international political order.) Yet if there is a certain twisted logic to such thinking on the part of US strategists, one wonders what could possibly cause Washington's vassals to share this preoccupation. Can it really be that they believe that the only guarantee of the stability of capitalist accumulation is for the US to forever remain the undisputed master of the universe?

All of this speculative discussion may seem like idle talk, but there is a crucial point to such musings. While it is impossible to draw specific conclusions about why Washington (still less its lackeys abroad) insists on pursuing an almost unimaginably dangerous approach to the situation in Ukraine, the general lesson is clear: for capitalism, life itself is but a secondary consideration.

Thus stated, this is not news, of course. As Marx noted: "Capital asks no questions about the length of life of labour-power...It attains [its] objective by shortening the life of labour-power...as a greedy farmer snatches more produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility." It is one thing, though, for the brutally rational capitalist to heedlessly destroy the health and life of workers knowing that there will always be more where they came from; another to coldbloodedly place the continued existence of humanity in question only because the alternative to doing so might entail some disruption of capitalist activity.

Again, while it is obvious that the unrelenting pressure on Moscow has significantly increased the danger of nuclear conflict, there is no possibility of determining the degree of our collective peril—but that is precisely the point. Where it is understood that a given course of action could lead to truly cataclysmic consequences, a person of sound mind does not need to calibrate the risks exactly in order to determine that this should be tried only if the alternative is complete and immediate catastrophe. Likewise, when adopting a given course of action will imperil the lives of others, one has a moral duty to prefer whatever safer options are on offer. How much more so then when the survival of all humankind hangs in the balance?

Even widespread protests against the mad hounding of Russia are not likely to change US policy in the near term, any more than demonstrations against Israeli aggression have served to mitigate the barbarity of the assault on Gaza. Yet, just as this does not mean that Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinians should go unremarked, neither should this knowledge dissuade us from calling for an end to Washington's insane escalation of tensions in Ukraine. First, because however doubtful it may seem that we will ever be able to bring a halt to these atrocious actions, it is even less likely that they will simply resolve themselves of their own accord; and second, because if we don't name and speak out against such atrocities we make ourselves complicit in them.

In saying this, however, it is absolutely crucial to understand that socialists must stop addressing the evils around us as if they were timeless and abstract. Now, more than ever, we need to adopt the methods of historical materialism developed by Marx. We must recognize that there is no such thing as "human nature" apart from given and specific social conditions (which is not, however, to say that there is no such thing as human nature). In particular, we need to to realize that war is inevitable as long as class antagonisms exist, but only so long as class antagonisms exist. Thus the sole way in which we can honestly and coherently confront the warmongering of Washington or Tel Aviv—or Ottawa—is by striving to bring an end to capitalism and all other forms of class society.

What is more, all of our activity needs to take on this character. We must cease to approach issues or situations in isolation, acting as if, from within the tyranny of a world system that is unjust, oppressive and exploitative to its very core, notions of right and wrong could amount to anything more than the crudest, most makeshift approximations.

Capitalism is killing us—all of us. It is daily crippling and murdering workers while systematically robbing us all of that most profoundly human desideratum: the ability to perform useful, meaningful, purposive, socially-oriented work. It is destroying the very conditions for life on Earth through its assault on the natural world. It brings us endless wars—soon, quite possibly, the war that will truly end all wars.

It is exactly because our situation is so critical that we can no longer afford evasions, obfuscations or half-measures. If we want to survive as more than hollowed-out zombie chattels—indeed, if we want to survive at all—we must stop dissembling our socialist beliefs and postponing into an unimaginably distant future the prospect of ending capitalism and instituting socialism. Let the liberals and the social democrats narcotize themselves with fairy tales about how they plan to change the system from within. Starting now, those of us who want to live at all must affirm that only the most radical acts of imagination can hope to transform the world.

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