War, diplomacy, and the class question

As ever, the outbreak of war has led to all manner of hypocrisy and propaganda from the agents of imperialism. Marxists must cut through this fog, and point out the real class interests at play. To end the horrors of war, we must end capitalism.

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC)

This fact was known long ago, and remains the case today. We are being subjected to a bombardment of official propaganda by Western imperialism, which is drenched in hypocrisy and cynicism.

The Russian intervention in Ukraine has led to howls of condemnation from the Western imperialists, who are themselves task-masters of foreign interventions and bloody excursions.

The British government, this third-rate yapping mongrel, has been keen to heighten the noise of jingoism. It has been frothing at the mouth in demanding action against Russian aggression. Those who dare raise the idea that this is a reactionary war on both sides are regarded as ‘agents of Putin’.

We must remember that the propaganda war is waged by both sides in the conflict to justify their actions. Let us not forget that the British people were lied to about so-called ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to justify the war in Iraq.


Marxists are opposed to Putin’s war in Ukraine, but for our own class reasons, in that it sows divisions in the working class, foments national hatreds, and throws back class consciousness.

But we are also opposed to Western imperialism, which is drenched in blood and has no interest in the well-being of the people of Ukraine.

russian tories money Image Socialist AppealJohnson's proclamations about the fight for ‘democratic values’ reeks of hypocrisy as he happily climbs into bed with Russian oligarchs who give money to the Tory Party / Image: Socialist Appeal

Boris Johnson, in particular, reeks of hypocrisy in proclaiming the fight for ‘democratic values’, while happily climbing into bed with Russian oligarchs who give money to the Tory Party.

The British ruling class has played the role of second fiddle to US imperialism in intervening everywhere in its own dirty interests.

As expected, the UK government shouts the loudest in the fight to defend Ukraine – to the last drop of someone else’s blood.

Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, however, with one eye on the leadership of the Tory Party, went a step too far and created consternation with the idea that British nationals should volunteer to fight the Russians in Ukraine.

In this imperialist chorus, the Tories are fully backed by Sir Keir Starmer and the right wing of the Labour Party, who have replaced the red flag with the flag of NATO. Johnson and Starmer are in effect the joint heads of the ‘War Party’.

This is a clear indication that any future Starmer government would be firmly in the pockets of US imperialism, as was Tony Blair’s. Foreign policy is only the extension of home policy. And an anti-working class policy at home means a reactionary, anti-working class imperialist policy abroad.

Double standards

This show of strength is drenched of course in double standards.

It was these so-called paragons of virtue who all fell over themselves in supporting imperialist aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya, to name a recent few, which led to the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

starmer johnson uk nato Image Socialist AppealWhile defended by its apologists under the flag of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance, is an aggressive instrument of Western imperialism – the most ruthless power on the planet / Image: Socialist Appeal

The masses in Iraq continue today to pay the price for US imperialism’s war, as do the other countries ‘liberated’ by these imperialist gangsters.

The main instigator of this violence has been US imperialism. This is the most ruthless power on the planet, with a long history of imperialist intervention in a stream of countries: Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Cuba, and in countries across the Middle East, where millions have died.

It is the head of the world’s most powerful military alliance – NATO – an aggressive instrument of Western imperialism.

The defence of the ravages of imperialism by its apologists, under the flag of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, is of course to be expected. The imperialist aggressors attack the ‘aggression’ of others, who dare contradict their interests.

In the process, they play with the lives of millions of innocent people, which are used and then cynically discarded when the time comes.

Both sides in this conflict are involved in propaganda to justify their actions, the better to influence public opinion.

Our task is not to fall for this reactionary demagogy, but to have a class understanding of the interests involved. War, after all, is the continuation of politics by other means.


Western imperialists, particularly American imperialism through the agency of NATO, have been continually seeking to expand their spheres of influence to the east, especially into the areas which were formerly under the aegis of the Soviet Union or part of it. The Russians regarded this as an existential threat.

As Strobe Talbott, the former deputy secretary of state, explained: “Many Russians see NATO as a vestige of the Cold War, inherently directed against their country. They point out that they have disbanded the Warsaw Pact, their military alliance, and ask why the West should not do the same.”

bjp tanks Image Socialist AppealWestern imperialists, particularly American imperialism through the agency of NATO, have been continually seeking to expand their spheres of influence to the east, especially into the areas which were formerly under the aegis of the Soviet Union or part of it / Image: Socialist Appeal

What determines the attitude of the imperialists is their material power, incomes, privileges and prestige. In doing so, they need to conquer markets, as well as capture spheres of influence and sources of raw materials and energy.

The expansion of NATO, their military alliance, is part and parcel of this. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, they have driven further eastwards, creating new spheres of influence and power.

They have the audacity to claim that this war in Ukraine is the first on the European continent since the Second World War.

They have conveniently forgotten the Balkan wars in the 1990s, instigated by imperialism – especially German imperialism – with the ethnic cleansing that accompanied it during the reactionary break-up of Yugoslavia. The purpose of this was to regain lost spheres of influence, and had nothing to do with defending the rights of the peoples that made up former Yugoslavia.

This opened up a new period of instability and war – the new ‘normal’ – in which they intervened in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya, with devastating consequences.

They seemed invincible in their arrogance. This was supposed to be the ‘end of history’, with capitalism finally triumphant and humanity having achieved the highest possible form of society. How things have changed since then!

Now, however, they are not facing the weak powers on the Balkans, but are having to deal with the hard resistance from Russia, who has drawn a red line to further Western advance.

The Russians already gave notice in Georgia and then Crimea, but the Western imperialists ignored them. This, in a nutshell, explains the current war.

As Ted Galan Carpenter, of the Cato Institute, warned:

“History will show that Washington’s treatment of Russia in the decades following the demise of the Soviet Union was a policy blunder of epic proportions. It was entirely predictable that NATO expansion would ultimately lead to a tragic, perhaps violent, breach of relations with Moscow…We are now paying the price for the US foreign policy establishment’s myopia and arrogance.” (The Guardian, 28/2/22)


Among those who consider themselves on the left in Britain, there is enormous confusion over this question. There is Paul Mason, for example, who simply says Putin started this war and is the guilty party, and therefore we must oppose him and support and strengthen NATO.

“We are in a global conflict between systems,” states Mason, who sees the fight in broader terms: “Democracy, science and the rule of law versus dictatorship, disinformation and armed anarchy.”

In other words, for Mason, it is simply a struggle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, nothing more; where he, of course, is on the side of ‘good’, namely Western imperialism.

Some, like George Monbiot, who seek some kind of ‘balance’, also end up in the camp of supporting Western imperialism. He regards Russia as the ‘aggressor', while the NATO alliance is simply reacting to the Russian threat.

“NATO’s expansion has also been driven in part by Putin’s belligerence,” Monbiot says, placing the blame on Russia. Again, this places him on the side of US imperialism, which means he has climbed into bed with one gang of imperialist robbers and plunderers – the NATO alliance – against another imperialist gang.

For both Monbiot and Paul Mason, the working class must abandon any independent class position and choose sides in this reactionary war. This is the mess you get into when you abandon a class position.

Instead of seeking to understand the objective reasons and interests that led to this war, i.e. the decades-long conflict over spheres of influence and power, we are reduced to seeking ‘who started it’. Nothing has been learnt from history by these people.


On the other hand, there are those on the left who, while criticising the intervention and NATO’s response, have adopted a pacifist approach.

This boils down to appealing for a ‘diplomatic solution’, ‘international law’, and abstract appeals for ‘peace’ as the way forward. Here there are the usual appeals for ‘sanity’ and ‘common sense’ to prevail in this terrible world. This is like appealing to a tiger to become a vegetarian.

Every time there is a threat of war, the pacifists and the left reformists appeal to the United Nations (UN) to intervene and secure peace. But the UN is utterly impotent, never having played any significant role in wars in the past. The call today for the UN to intervene in relation to Ukraine is even more laughable.

At this time, Russia holds the presidency of the United Nations. So when the UN held a Security Council emergency meeting about the conflict, the Russian Ambassador was chairing the meeting!

At the UN Security Council, the United States introduced a resolution condemning Russia, supported by Britain and France, but this was immediately vetoed by Russia, with China, India and the UAE abstaining.

“We must give peace another chance,” stated António Guterres., secretary general of the UN. “Leaders need to turn to the path of dialogue and peace. At this critical moment, I call for an immediate ceasefire and re-establishment of the rule of law.”

These serene words had as much effect on the situation as the words of King Canute when he tried to order the sea to retreat. Such pleas fall on deaf ears.

The UN is as impotent as the League of Nations before the Second World War. It has never solved any major conflict. At best, only secondary issues can be resolved through dialogue in the UN, but little else. The major powers in the Security Council simply veto things they don’t like.

An emergency UN general assembly did pass a resolution condemning Russia, but this is as toothless as the numerous resolutions against the US blockade of Cuba or against Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.

Stop the War

Support for the UN and diplomacy is the position held by the Stop the War Coalition. But even this is too much to stomach for the arch-NATO supporter, Sir Keir Starmer.

In an attempt by Starmer to show he was a more loyal supporter of Western imperialism than Johnson, he launched an attack on the Stop the War coalition for giving “succour to authoritarian leaders who threaten democracies”. In reality, it is he, a faithful Blairite poodle, who is craving ‘succour’ from the ruling class.

Starmer Stop the war Image Chris Beckett FlickrWhile we stand against Starmer’s spiteful attack to Stop the War, the coalition’s statement reveals its weakness when it refers to the virtues of diplomacy, the UN, and sweet reason / Image: Chris Beckett, Flickr

While we stand against Starmer’s bullying and everything he stands for, including his spiteful attack on Stop the War, the coalition’s statement reveals its weakness when it refers to the virtues of diplomacy, the UN, and sweet reason.

This weakness obviously reflects the fact that the anti-war coalition encompasses a wide variety of people, including liberals and different religious groups, with pacifist opinions ‘against war’. A large layer of the British left, who are well-meaning, have also signed up to this broad-based opposition. But therein lies its weakness.

The coalition is attempting to build a heterogeneous movement on a few basic points, which evades the central question that capitalism and imperialism inevitably create the conditions for war. It is not a moral, but a class question.

Class question

Marxists have always explained that war and revolution are fundamental questions that reflect powerful material class interests. This has all been dealt with extensively in the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky.

Unfortunately, these ideas, regarded as old fashioned, have been pushed aside by many on the left in favour of all kinds of middle-class and pacifist ideas. They have abandoned the class point of view in regard to international questions, as in domestic issues.

Our task is to expose this hypocrisy of the ruling class, especially of our own, and to make clear the common interests of the working class. Our starting point must be that anything which acts to raise the class consciousness of the working class is justified, while anything that produces the opposite effect has to be condemned.

In other words, all that which increases the internationalism and the powers of the working class must be supported; anything which results in a lowering of class consciousness and exacerbates national divisions must be opposed.

What determines the policy and attitude of socialists must be the class interests of the workers as opposed to those of the capitalists. That is our criterion.

All this talk of so-called diplomacy and mutual agreements are not worth the paper they are written on.

The idea that the British ruling class should follow the lead of the French and German rulers in pursuing diplomacy is simply to build illusions that there are ‘good’ imperialists and ‘bad’ imperialists; one set who are reasonable and others who are belligerent.

This leads directly to the idea that the working class can find solutions to their problems by allying with this or that wing of the ruling class.

Our duty is to always tell the working class the truth, and that is that they cannot trust any section of the ruling class. And that they cannot trust any of the imperialist powers who, in the last analysis, only act in their own class interests and according to the balance of forces at a particular time.

The imperialists try to disguise their real aims with all sorts of subterfuges and moralising. But in reality it is material interests that determine the policy of capitalist Britain, America, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, and the others.

The left think they can bring pressure to bear upon the rulers of the world. However, all the protests around the world do not count for anything in the eyes of the ruling class.

We should recall that the mass demonstration against the Iraq war of two million people in London in February 2003, organised by Stop the War, did not prevent the imperialist military intervention.

The so-called policy of ‘shock and awe’ back then in Iraq was pursued for material interests and gain. “War is the continuation of politics by other means,” to quote Clausewitz again. And when the capitalist class decides that war is the next step they must take, then nice words will have no effect.

When the struggle between the major powers leads to war, small countries – in the present case Ukraine – are simply regarded as small change for the imperialists.

In the First World War, it was ‘poor little Belgium’ that was used as their fig leaf for imperialist war. They even used the cloak of ‘self-determination’ to cover their crimes. Ukraine for the NATO imperialists was only a means for their further expansion eastwards, and nothing more.


Any call for a ceasefire, withdrawal of the troops, and support for the UN, is devoid of a class standpoint, class analysis, and class solutions.

Unfortunately, statements from Stop the War, while containing correct points about NATO expansion, are mired in pacifism and illusions in diplomacy.

nato ukraine Image Socialist AppealIn a capitalist world, international law is always ripped up by powers if it gets in the way of pursuing their own interests / Image: Socialist Appeal

“We call for an immediate ceasefire alongside the resumption of diplomatic negotiations to resolve the crisis,” says the statement. “This dispute could and should be resolved peacefully…”

But how can this be done when Putin, reflecting the interests of Russian capitalism, sees the expansion of NATO as an existential threat, and the NATO imperialists, for reasons of prestige, cannot afford to lose face? They will not change their spots.

The statement goes on to say that the “wars of aggression by the USA, Britain and other NATO powers” have “undermined international law and the United Nations”.

We have already commented on the complete impotence of the United Nations, which in any case has also been a fig-leaf for imperialist interventions.

International law is always ripped up by powers if it gets in the way of pursuing their own interests. It is a fiction in a capitalist world dominated by capitalist interests.

It calls on the British to oppose NATO’s expansion to the east, and to encourage a return to the Minsk-2 agreement.

“Beyond that, there now needs to be a united effort to develop pan-European security arrangements which meet the needs of all states …The alternative is endless great power conflict with all the attendant waste of resources and danger of bloodshed and destruction.”

This pacifist approach, completely devoid of class politics, is completely utopian.

Firstly, capitalist imperialist governments carry out policies in their own interests, to further their own power, prestige, and profits. On a capitalist basis, there will always be rivalry, conflict and wars between the powers.

The actions of the ruling class of each state is guided by its material interests. As a result, there has hardly been a day of peace in the world since the Second World War.

Whether there is conflict or not has nothing to do with “pan-European security arrangements” or any other arrangements; nor about a return to ‘diplomacy’, behind which lies the class interests of each state. It is an illusion and falsehood to say that peace can be achieved or maintained by such means.

Class struggle

We must stare reality in the face. We need to call things by their right names. When tensions build up between the capitalist powers over power, spheres of influence, and markets, to the point where ‘normal’ competition no longer suffices to establish who is to dominate, then war becomes the next option. And when their vital interests are at stake, they will go to war.

That is why, above all, we need to speak the truth and base ourselves on the class struggle.

no to war Image In Defence of MarxismThe only really meaningful fight against imperialist war is to be found in the struggle to change society, and eliminate the contradictions and material interests that produce it / Image: Marxist Tendency (Russia)

The only really meaningful fight against imperialist war is to be found in the struggle to change society, and eliminate the contradictions and material interests that produce it. That is – on the basis of a real, serious revolutionary social programme, capable of rallying the working class and the oppressed.

The solution to the problem of war, of national antagonisms, and the crimes of imperialism, can only be found in the overthrow of capitalism, and the creation of a democratic World Federation of Socialist States. This is the only real, lasting solution to world problems and conflicts.

So long as capitalism exists war is inevitable at some stage. And once this war is over, new wars will be prepared as the capitalist system sinks deeper and deeper into crisis.

We therefore take our stand on the basis of a Marxist class analysis, which cuts through the hypocrisy and the hysterical propaganda of the capitalist class and its venal media.

This provides us with an internationalist perspective, and an understanding of national and international problems. It is a weapon in the struggle to transform society in the interests of the working class.

As Ted Grant explained: “Only by analysing the class interests that lay behind the international clashes and contradictions is it possible to understand the modern world and prepare the working class for the necessary transformation of society.”

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