Carlos Martinez talks to Papagiotis Papadomanolakis of the The Press Project about the conflict in Ukraine, the persistent attempts by the US to divide Russia and China, and the rise of a multipolar world. The interview took place in English and was first published in Greek.
Our discussion is taking place while a special military operation is taking place to denazify and demilitarize the Kiev regime, which came to power with the support of Washington and the neo-Nazis. How is the current conflict in Ukraine linked to the broader strategy of the United States against a multipolar world?
The US has been escalating the conflict in Ukraine in a very cynical way. If it were in the slightest bit interested in ending tensions and establishing a stable peace in Europe, it would have encouraged the Kiev government to implement the Minsk Agreements and to respect the legitimate national rights of the ethnolinguistically Russian section of the Ukrainian population, particularly in Donbas. It would furthermore have stated explicitly that Ukraine would not be invited to join NATO – as opposed to saying, as President Biden did in December 2021, that “the decision on Ukraine’s accession to NATO is the decision of the Ukrainian people.”
Instead, the US has actively fomented tensions in order to consolidate its geopolitical hegemony over Europe. The US and its allies provided significant resources for the Maidan coup in 2014, because they understood that the Maidan leadership was unambiguously pro-West and anti-Russian in orientation, unlike the Yanukovych government, which aimed to have good relations with both Russia and the West.
The US in particular has been vehemently opposed to a federal solution to the crisis in Southeastern Ukraine, as this would potentially give Donetsk and Lugansk veto power over Ukraine joining NATO and becoming fully inserted into the US’s so-called rules-based international order. That’s how the national oppression of the peoples of the Donbas became a question of geostrategic significance; that’s the basis for the tactical alliance that’s been formed between the US, its supposedly liberal friends in Kyiv and Lvov, and the assorted ‘ultranationalist’ (that is, fascist) militia that have been waging a campaign of terror for the last eight years.
The US is pursuing both narrow economic interests and broader political interests. Economically, it has an opportunity to break Europe’s reliance on Russian energy resources and to provide its own alternative, in the form of fracked shale gas. The US has long been pushing Germany to pull out of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, but the Merkel government persisted with it (for all her faults, Angela Merkel had some understanding of the world’s transition towards multipolarity). So in terms of the energy markets, US producers stand to gain.
Incidentally, it’s perfectly clear that the US ruling class is unwilling to do anything meaningful to prevent the possibility of climate breakdown – the process of fracking releases large quantities of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. Plus of course there’s the environmental cost of liquifying this gas and transporting it across the Atlantic Ocean.
The US’s geopolitical aims are nothing short of a revival of the Project for a New American Century and a global expansion of the New Cold War. If Ukraine joins NATO, US military bases and advanced weaponry will be positioned along the 2,000-km border with Russia – ironically, in the areas where the Nazis waged so much of their genocidal war 80 years ago, and where the united Soviet people displayed such extraordinary heroism. Thus positioned, the US will maintain a permanent threat against Russia, with a view to forcing the present government into submission or else replacing it and turning the Russian Federation into a client state. This in turn would set the scene for a major escalation against China; it would provide a crucial boost for US-led imperialism’s most important long-term project: containing China and rolling back the Chinese Revolution.
How do you interpret the fact that the richest states of the Global North and their allies are trying to impose sanctions on Russia, while the anti-imperialist and socialist developing countries of the emerging world are resisting? How does this attitude relate to the agreements between China, Iran and Russia, as well as the new alliance of countries in the UN against sanctions?
The divisions over sanctions against Russia are a reflection of the diminishing strength of the imperialist world system – what Samir Amin referred to as The Triad: the US, Western Europe and Japan. The imperialists would dearly love to be able to ‘triangulate’ between China and Russia, using Russia to weaken China or the other way round. They look back fondly to the Sino-Soviet split, which was an unexpected but very welcome development as far as the Western powers were concerned (and of course a disaster for the global communist movement). But now, 60 years later, in spite of obvious ideological differences between China and Russia, the two countries have an extremely friendly and mutually-supportive relationship. They share one of the longest land borders in the world; both are large countries; both are permanent members of the UN Security Council; and both occupy leading roles in the development of a multipolar system of international relations. And neither of their governments is falling into the West’s divide-and-rule trap.
It’s particularly interesting that other major developing countries are opposed to the West’s strategy against Russia. The US has long sought to cultivate India as its major Asian stalking horse against China – for example by reviving the Quad and giving India a major role in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. Certainly India is somewhat susceptible to being mobilised against China, but it is also a large country with its own independent interests. It would be an economic and political absurdity for India to cut off relations with Russia, given the longstanding friendship between the two countries and their extensive cooperation around energy, agriculture, infrastructure and military technology.
The multipolar trend is growing. The vast majority of people in the world do not want to endure hegemony; they want sovereignty, they want the freedom to develop in peace, in accordance with their specific needs and circumstances. An important development that’s worth mentioning is the formation last year of the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations – a group which includes China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the DPRK, Zimbabwe, Bolivia and a number of other countries. This formation aims to unite the countries of the world in opposing unilateralism and hegemonism, and calling for a return to the principles of international law and the UN Charter.
So on the one hand we have a very powerful historic trajectory that is, in essence, anti-imperialist. But history doesn’t move in a straight line, and of course the imperialist camp is responding to the situation. The Biden administration has been very actively working to cement an imperialist alliance, placing a renewed emphasis on NATO and the Quad, and building closer relationships with Europe and Canada. The AUKUS trilateral security pact between Australia, Britain and the US is essentially about expanding NATO into the Pacific.
The imperialist camp seems to be in a phase of relative unity and consolidation, with Western Europe, Japan, Canada and Australia more-or-less willing to accept the US’s continuing leadership against the ‘threat’ of a multipolar world in which there is no longer an economic or political basis for imperialism. The imperialist camp is arguably more united now than at any point since the Cold War, during which they closed ranks against the ‘communist menace’. For example, the US has been able to persuade its European and Anglo-Saxon allies to impose unprecedented sanctions on Russia – at significant cost to ordinary people in those countries, who now face a cost of living crisis that threatens to drive millions into poverty. These sanctions, and the provision of heavy weaponry to Kyiv, are aimed not at resolving the conflict but prolonging it. They benefit the US ruling class and nobody else. But the Europeans seem to be happy enough to engage in acts of self-harm for the sake of supporting the US.
In summary, I suspect we’re entering a very complex and unpredictable stage of geopolitics. With China’s rise in particular, the global socialist movement is starting to recover its confidence after the terrible reverses caused by the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern/Central Europe. Socialism has a renewed momentum. There is an emerging solidarity and cooperation in the Global South, and there’s a global desire for multipolarity. But there is also the increasingly desperate and violent response of a US-led imperialist bloc which, although no longer the economic centre of gravity to the same extent that it was, continues to maintain a mammoth global military infrastructure. Mao’s phrase that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” still holds true. As such, there will be many obstacles remaining on the road to a post-imperialist world.
I recently read an article by Matthew Croning, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, which argued that the United States does not have to choose between fighting Russia or China. Instead, he suggests that they can confront both countries at the same time. An analysis by the Rand Institute wrote the same thing. I’d like you to comment on these statements in light of of the recent AUKUS alliance, the West’s threats against the new agreement between China and the Solomon Islands and recent events in Pakistan.
This idea that the US can “confront” both Russia and China simultaneously sounds reckless and ridiculous – and indeed it is reckless and ridiculous – but it also reflects an understanding that the attempts to divide Russia and China have been unsuccessful. The so-called realists in the US foreign policy establishment have long sought to cultivate Russia as a stable ally in order to bring it into an anti-China front. Indeed this was the strategy pursued by the Trump administration in its early days, taking a hostile approach towards China whilst showing some understanding of Russia’s security needs. However, this didn’t get off the ground, largely because there was never enough of a consensus for it in the State Department, where anti-Russia sentiment runs deep.
China-Russian relations are better now than they have been since the mid 1950s. In February this year, following Putin and Xi’s meeting in Beijing, the two countries released a lengthy joint statement on the current state of international relations, summing up their shared perspective in support of multipolarity and their concerns about “attempts at hegemony, which pose serious threats to global and regional peace and stability and undermine the stability of the world order.”
The imperialist ruling classes have no choice but to accept that China and Russia will not be used against one another; that they form a core component of an emerging multipolarity, which is attractive to practically the entire world outside Western Europe and the Anglosphere.
Hence if there is to be a New American Century, the US will have to deal with both China and Russia. But the US is a declining power, increasingly unable to impose its will on the world. Its project of ‘decoupling’ and persuading countries to reduce their economic ties with China has been a total failure – after all, China is the largest trading partner of the majority of the world’s countries. Even traditional allies are unwilling to act on the instructions issued by Washington. The Solomon Islands, as you’ve mentioned, are a good example. The US and Australia have long treated the Pacific islands as their playground, but these countries are coming to see that they no longer need to suffer in a state of permanent dependency and underdevelopment; that China is willing to engage with them on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.
Another indication of the US’s declining diplomatic reach is the number of countries that have switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the PRC in recent years. There are now only 13 states that maintain full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, with a cumulative population of less than 50 million, around 3.5 percent of the global population.
The White House keeps coming up with new schemes to counter the Belt and Road Initiative – the Blue Dot Network; Build Back Better World; the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework – but everyone knows these are destined for failure, since the US can barely keep the lights on at home, let alone build high-speed rail links and renewable energy infrastructure in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
Meanwhile, like China, Russia also has excellent relations with the Global South. It’s no accident that the socialist and socialist-oriented countries of Latin America (Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia) have strongly defended Russia in relation to the Ukraine crisis; after all, Russia has provided valuable support to all of them, and has treated them with dignity and respect. Another dynamic to consider is that Russia and India have a longstanding friendship, and this could be an important factor in determining India’s strategic orientation going forward: will it allow itself to be used by the West to weaken China, or will it join hands with the Global South, the socialist countries and the non-aligned countries, in moving towards a multipolar world?
But as I mentioned earlier, the US continues to be the most heavily armed state in history, and its military superiority allows it to continue clinging on to the idea of enduring hegemony. As such, and perhaps counterintuitively, the strengthening of China’s military capability is a hugely important factor in the pursuit of world peace.
We see that the Western media is dominated by Russophobia, Islamophobia and Sino-phobia. For example, during the pandemic period China was targeted, while today the zero-Covid policy is vilified. I would like you to describe how you experience this climate of new McCarthyism in the more developed states of the Western world.
We’re entering a very dangerous period where racism is being fomented and freedom of speech is under attack. At the moment, anti-Russia and anti-China sentiment is omnipresent in the Western media, and it’s not difficult to understand how this leads to a steep increase in racism – including violent racism, particularly against East Asians. Meanwhile, the counter-narrative has been censored. Russian media has been banned. CGTN has had its broadcasting license taken away in Britain, as has Press TV. Employees of Russian or Chinese government and media outlets are given a special label on social media platforms, sort of like the health warning on cigarette packets. The implication being that Russian and Chinese voices are fundamentally untrustworthy. Needless to say, there is no such equivalent for employees of the British government or the BBC, for example.
The limits of acceptable opinion are becoming increasingly narrow. Those of us that use social media to provide an alternative perspective are being subjected to “exposés” in the billionaire press. You have celebrity pseudo-leftists like Paul Mason cooperating with British security agencies to spread the slander that any anti-imperialist opinion in Britain is paid for by the British and Chinese states. People that promote friendly cooperation with China and Russia – or opposition to the NATO war machine – are being vilified.
The overall message is perfectly clear: the only acceptable worldview is one that supports the US-led imperialist project. Ironically, there is far greater diversity of opinion and liveliness of debate in China and Russia than there is in the West, where anti-imperialist views are systematically marginalised and suppressed.
Friends of Socialist China is dedicated to the study of what is called “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. Recently China declared that it has achieved the goal of eradicating extreme poverty and is heading towards ensuring common prosperity through wealth redistribution, with the aim of building a modern socialist country. What do you think about the Chinese government’s policies, as well as in the developing nations’ efforts to develop?
There’s widespread confusion about the nature of modern China. Because China has billionaires, because China has a large volume of private capital, because there is significant inequality in China, a lot of people believe that China has abandoned the socialist path. Some (bizarrely) even describe China as being neoliberal.
The confusion is understandable to a degree, but it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of Marxism. The core question of socialism is that of political power, not the ratio of private to public ownership. In capitalist society, the capitalist class is the ruling class, and its interests are prioritised over everything else. Sure, there are capitalists in China, but they are not in power; they are not able to assert their interests above those of the working class and peasantry. The Chinese Revolution placed the working people in power and established a system of people’s democracy with a leading role for the Communist Party. This system has evolved over time, but its essence remains the same.
I note in passing that although the ratio of private to public ownership is not the principal determining factor in whether a given society is socialist, that doesn’t mean that it’s irrelevant. The ownership structure and management of the economy provide the base on which the political superstructure lies. If the Chinese economy were based exclusively or primarily on private ownership and the profit motive, socialism would not last for long. But China’s market socialism is set up specifically such that the state has the leading and decisive role. Or, as it is phrased in China’s constitution: “The state sector of the economy, that is, the sector of the socialist economy under ownership by the whole people, is the leading force in the economy.”
Why has China been able to give such a huge priority to poverty alleviation? To solving the problem of homelessness? To ensuring that every single child receives an education? To tackling the pandemic? To investing in renewable energy, afforestation and the protection of biodiversity? To tackling corruption? To expanding infrastructure throughout the country? The government’s priorities are the people’s priorities, and this is because China is a socialist democracy. No capitalist country has been able to achieve what China has achieved; the class structure of capitalist society simply doesn’t allow it. As Fidel Castro commented in 1993, China’s great successes have been “carried out under the immortal ideas of Marxism-Leninism and their wise application to China’s conditions.” Fidel continues: “Only socialism could have been capable of the miracle of feeding; clothing; providing with jobs, education, and healthcare; raising life expectancy to 70; and providing decorous shelter for more than 1 billion human beings in a minute portion of the planet’s arable land. Thanks to such a feat at this difficult time for the world’s peoples, over one-fifth of humanity remains under the banner of socialism.”
Having achieved the historic goal of eliminating extreme poverty, China’s focus is shifting towards taking on relative poverty, improving per capita GDP, reducing inequality between regions and groups, and developing in an ecologically sustainable manner. Starting in 2020, the government has placed a clear emphasis on tackling the disorderly expansion of private capital, housing speculation, extreme income inequality, and excessive power of tech companies and private education providers.
Meanwhile China has also stepped up its contribution to the global struggle to prevent climate breakdown and to preserve biodiversity, clean air and clean water. In 2021, China made the world-historic commitments to reach peak carbon consumption by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. Since announcing these goals, the government has developed systematic programs for achieving them. China is already the undisputed world leader in renewable energy, with a total capacity greater than the US, the EU, Japan and Britain combined.
China’s forest coverage has increased from 12 percent in the early 1980s to 23 percent today. It has established national parks covering 230,000 square kilometres. It leads the world in the production and use of electric cars, trains and buses. Around 99 percent of the world’s electric buses are in China, along with 70 percent of the world’s high-speed rail.
The Belt and Road Initiative, adopted in 2013, has transformed the investment landscape for infrastructure and connectivity, particularly in the developing world. Over 140 of the world’s 195 countries have formally affiliated to the Belt and Road, allowing them to address their substantial needs in terms of physical infrastructure, telecommunications, transport, and energy production and transmission.
In the statement of aims of Friends of Socialist China, we write that China’s “size and level of development give it an objectively critical role in the global transition to socialism. China is the most prominent force pushing for the establishment of a multipolar system of international relations and a new international economic order; meanwhile, it is emerging as the global leader in the struggle to avoid climate breakdown. As such, the continued survival of Chinese socialism is a crucial matter not only for the Chinese people but for all humanity.”
I stand by this statement. I support all the socialist and socialist-oriented countries, including North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Venezuela and Nicaragua, but it seems clear that China has a uniquely important role in humanity’s struggle against imperialism and for socialism.
To conclude, I would like to ask you why do you think that the majority of the Western left avoids to choose the camp against imperialism and to be inspired by the socialist countries?
Ever since 1917, progressive people in the advanced capitalist countries have found it very difficult to support actually existing socialism. They exist within a very powerful and sophisticated propaganda environment where the socialist states are systematically portrayed as being uniquely evil and misguided. The result of this is that anyone defending the socialist countries, or indeed other states and movements that consistently stand against imperialism, finds themselves instantly in a tiny minority, which is a psychologically uncomfortable position to be in.
In such a cultural-ideological environment, created purposefully by the capitalist class, the progressive trends that thrive tend to be the ones that can reconcile themselves with an essentially anti-communist narrative, for example the followers of Tony Cliff with their ‘Neither Washington Nor Moscow’ line from the 1940s onwards. Today their intellectual inheritors shout ‘Neither Washington Nor Beijing’, and portray the New Cold War as a type of inter-imperialist conflict. They think that, since China has some large corporations and is involved in the export of capital, it’s an imperialist country and that we should be joining hands with the Chinese working class to help bring down the CPC-led government (ignoring the inconvenient fact that the Chinese working class overwhelmingly supports the CPC-led government).
They stick to their formulas and dogmas, and ignore the reality of imperialism as it exists in the world: a US-led imperialist bloc with a network of 800 military bases, imposing unilateral sanctions against dozens of countries, waging wars of regime change, waging proxy wars, engaging in destabilisation campaigns, forcing structural adjustment programs onto poor countries, and so on. China invests in other countries on the basis of mutual benefit. China is a strong proponent of sovereign development and the principles of respect, equality, non-interference and self-determination. To put an equals sign between China’s foreign relations and Western imperialism is patently absurd, and yet much of the left does exactly that.
It’s not only socialist countries that fail to attract the support of large sections of the Western left. Russia is engaged in a historic battle against NATO imperialism, and yet many so-called leftists choose NATO over Russia. Such people refused to support Libya when it was subjected to a brutal regime change campaign. Such people refused to support Syria when Turkey and the Gulf states, with full knowledge and approval of the US, sent sectarian militia to wage a proxy regime change war. Such people refused to support Yugoslavia when NATO’s bombs were raining down in 1999. When it comes to questions of global politics, take their lead from their imperialist ruling class.
Of course, there are honourable exceptions. The outstanding task for those of us in the West is to build a powerful anti-imperialist socialist movement that joins hands with the oppressed peoples of the entire world, fighting together against hegemony, against war, against oppression, against exploitation, for justice, for peace, for a future for humanity and our planet.