Given that Ukraine/Russia remains very much in the news, I thought to revisit my column, with a modest update, that original appeared in this space last September: http://www.opednews.com/articles/Ukraine-A-Clash-of-Capita-by-Steven-Jonas-Battle_Capitalism_Decline_Empire-140919-56.html . It presents my view of what the conflict is really about.
World War I has been interpreted in a variety of ways, from the "Accidental War" to a continuation of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. But at its base it was a conflict between three imperial powers working together, Great Britain, France, and Russia, against the other three major ones of the time, Prussia, the Ottoman Empire, and the grandiloquently named Austro-Hungarian Empire, also working together.
World War II has also been characterized in various ways, from the "fight against fascism" to the battle to protect and defend "freedom and democracy." In reality, at least from the time that France quit, it was the battle of Great Britain to defend its Empire, then the battle of the Soviet Union to defend its territorial integrity and prevent its dismantlement in the jaws of a rapacious, genocidal Nazi Germany, and finally, with the US entry into the war, the first major stage in the establishment of the US World Empire.
Similarly, the current conflict in and around Ukraine has been variously characterized, from the battle of Ukraine to wrest itself from the control of a "rapacious" Russia, to a battle of the Russian-speaking Ukrainians of the Eastern part of the country to preserve their culture and a certain degree of political independence, to an attempted takeover by Russia of Eastern Ukraine, beyond the Crimea and its naval base at Sevastopol (which just happens to be Russia's most important warm-water port and has been in Russian hands for centuries). What is actually happening in Ukraine has been followed closely by The Russia Desk of The Greanville Post, to which readers are referred for everything from the history of the region going back to the days of the Russian Empire to what is actually going on on the ground, right now, both in Ukraine and Russia.
In the earlier version of this column, I presented a summary of the recent history of Ukraine and the role of the West in creating the current situation. That reality certainly did not start on the day after the coup-d'etat that overthrew the former elected President of the country, Viktor Yanukovich, who just very conveniently has been on Interpol's "wanted" list since January 15, 2015. Despite the fact that that is the way current Ukrainian history is presented in the Western media, it started some time before that, as summarized in the earlier version of this column and presented at length at TGP's "Russia Desk."
Since the end of the Second World War, with the elimination of the Japanese Empire and the soon to be total decline of the British and French Empires, the United States has become the next world Empire. US-led capitalist imperialism has spread all around the world, monstrously metastasizing, more by economic dominance and the primacy of the US dollar as the world's reserve currency than by large physical holdings of land, as previous empires have done. However, the US does have about 750 military bases scattered around the world and so retains a military presence just about everywhere, except in Russia, China and the Indian sub-continent.
As many alternate historians and journalists have documented, since the end of WW II the US has not been shy in using its power and intelligence tentacles to stage coups in scores of nations, invariably supplanting the target government with an anti-democratic dictatorship entirely subservient to Washington. This route to empire has become a perfected art in the last 25 years with the rise of even more hypocritical forms of destabilization from "Orange" revolutions, right-to-protect interventions, and so on, to outright massive invasions under entirely false pretenses, as we saw more recently in Iraq. (The latter actually marked a turn from empire-expansion to the creation of Permanent War, but that is another story.)
But US imperialism is entering the same stage of decline that every other imperial power since Rome has encountered (see Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Random House, 1987). It has spread too far for the power of its military to maintain it; its expansion has been financed by debt and it refuses to support the continued expansion by taxing those who can afford to pay; it is losing allies; and it is more and more focusing on profit-making through the trade in pieces of paper and through dominance of the international supply of non-renewable energy supplies. With the dominance of the profits-at-all costs sector of the ruling class at home, domestically the US is also facing a rising Permanent Army of the unemployed, an exploding health care delivery system, widespread de-industrialization, a failing educational system financed more and more by private debt rather than government expenditure, a rapidly deteriorating infra-structure, from water supply to transportation, and so on and so forth.
So where does the Western-led economic/political assault on Ukraine come in? Russian capitalism is in the very early stages of development. With the stealing of the productive resources of the Soviet people that had belonged to them collectively under the Soviet Union, facilitated by the US stooge, the alcoholic Boris Yeltsin, there was the instant creation of a 19th-century type of "Robber Baron capitalism," dominated as it is by what are called the "Oligarchs" ("billionaires" in Western parlance).
It is hard to be sure how well the US interests predicted what the Russian response to the Ukrainian coup would be, but it could have certainly been predicted to be what it was, especially since the naval base at Sevastopol, held by Russia only under a long-term lease from Ukraine, was threatened. Then the US would be able to move to economic sanctions. In this space last Spring I wrote that I thought that the objective for the whole venture from the US point of view was to get the Oligarchs to overthrow the Russian nationalist Vladimir Putin and install a leadership that, with their cooperation, would open up all of Russia, along with its immense energy reserves, to US-led Western Imperialism, with the immature Russian robber-baron capitalism gradually being taken over. In other words, two capitalist ruling classes are engaged in an immense battle, in a very small space, using very small proxy militaries, battling for a very large prize.
The United States is in the declining phase of Capitalist Empire. It can survive for a bit longer (in historical terms) only by gobbling up more resources and having access to more low-paid workers in other countries for the manufacturing of its products (see the Trans-Pacific Partnership). Russian robber-baron capitalism is clearly on the upswing. Presently it has its huge energy reserves. It has an industrial base dating from the time of the Soviet Union. It is in desperate need of modernization but that can certainly happen if it is left alone. And now, it may well have access to new capital, coming from the new Chinese development bank. Putin is no saint and neither is the Russian ruling class he serves a collection of them. But he, and so far the Russian ruling class, are standing up to the US.
There may also be developing an alliance between China-Russia and Iran, which may account for the sudden severe hardening of the Iranian line in the nuclear-restriction talks. Such an alliance, with Iranian access to the new Chinese banking and other economic services, might enable them to get around the most severe of the Western sanctions. The recent rapprochement of Russia with China ended 50 years of separation that began with the China-Soviet split (over entirely different issues, of course) that took place under Mao and Khrushchev in the 1960s.
It will be fascinating to watch as two post-socialist state-capitalist societies, with different forms, work together to combat the other principal capitalist powers, the Western Imperialist Alliance, led by the United States. And so, if the possible survival of the world as we have known it until fairly recently, is dependent upon the decline, if not the fall, of US imperial power, then at this juncture at least we do have to hope the Russian robber-baron capitalism can win its struggle-by-proxy with US-led imperialist capital, in Ukraine. Of course, for the long-term survival, not only of our species, but all the rest of the still-surviving ones on Earth, we then have to move on to the replacement of all brands of capitalism. But that too is another story.