Then and Now, Here and There

Fifty years ago, there were those counting days backwards to zero. There were those wishing for a bit of good fortune to offset their more than a bit of bad fortune. There were those who were crossing fingers, toes, eyes, and other body parts, while putting their heads on a swivel and wishing for panoramic vision. There were those hoping for the success of the Paris peace talks.

This was after Tet but before Cambodia, so you can see how slow a boat the USS Wishin’ and Hopin’ is. Paris peace talks begin 1968. Agreement reached, 1973. War continued until 1975.

There were those others, maybe with a death grip on the slippery madness that was everyday reality, who knew what that everyday reality meant. It meant “war without end, amen.”

At the same time and miles away there were those who grasped some iteration of that war without end, amen. In the protests and meetings and demonstrations against the war, those argued that the war would not, could not end without a socialist revolution.

Maybe a little early, maybe a little late, timing is everything, timing is never quite right. You can try but you really can’t live in the moment. You can apprehend the aggregation, the accumulation of moments, the system expressed in those moments. War without end- was, if not the plan of, for, by capitalists of by and for capital, its history unmasked.

Short version? “Markets are fine, but artillery saves time.”

You’re going to have a hard time if you’re looking for a class analysis of events in Russia in the Ukraine from the “usual suspects” known as the “left;” if you’re looking for an analysis that overcomes the trap about “national self-determination” or the other trap of “historical basis” for Russian suzerainty regarding the Ukraine. Or the trap about “democratic elections,” and the trap of the overthrow of “legitimately elected governments.” Or the trap of corruption on this or that side; the trap of fascists on this side and imperialists on the other. Or the trap of “progressive” and “more progressive.” Or the trap of the unity or not of the “great Slavic peoples.”

So we start with the fact that “national self-determination” is a trick bag designed to smother class analysis and class action wherever and whenever it has been raised, and it has always been raised as a moment of nostalgia for a “democratic rule” that never exists in order to subjugate workers to capital.

We move to the fact that Russia’s “historic claim” to the Ukraine is the ideology of empire that has been absorbed by and into its capitalist relations.

We don’t care about the elections, democratic or not, of Kuchma, Yanukovich in 2004, 2006, 2010, or of Tymoshenko in 2007, or Poroshenko, or Zelensky, or…Putin (pick a year, any year). They’re all democratic, legitimate, fraudulent, honest, corrupt, brutal, dishonest. They all represent some element of their bourgeoisie.

We know that NGOs and GOs from Western capitalist countries facilitated the Maidan rebellion of 2014. We know that in the topsy-turvy world of wrecker capitalism, the “populace” revolted when Yanukovich choked,shuddered and turned away from imposing the IMF’s “recovery plan.”

¡Vivan las cadenas!” “Хай живуть ланцюги!” “Long live the chains!” Different languages, same old.

We know that fascist militias are operational in the Ukraine, just as we know right-wing, nationalist militias operate in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Russia.

We know too that the obliteration of the Kharkiv, Kyiv, like the obliteration of Aleppo, is not strategy, not a plan, but an organic necessity for Putin who, imperfect embodiment of all that capital is and will be, has nothing else to offer. Destruction, the dissemination of misery and privation is essential to capital, capitalists, and their administrators everywhere.

In 1991, when the established “advanced” capitalisms realized that the Soviet Union was collapsing, the “experts,” advisors, consultants, of the West confronted a challenge. The challenge was not to maintain “basic services” during a supposed transition, but rather to convert the means of production from state property into exchangeable values.

It was the opportunity of a anti-life-time, or at least an opportunity for the Harvard crew of Jeffrey Sachs to show the Chicago boys of Milton Friedman a thing or two about markets, and freedom, and value, and shortening the life-times of those ensnared in and by the transformation.

The conversion of state property to exchangeable values took place within the parameters of a capitalist mode of valuation persistently plagued by overproduction. In order to make the transformation from state property to exchangeable values, the industrial plant, capacity, footprint had to be severely and rapidly reduced. Production, the value of production, had to severed from direct use, from need. Scarcity, enforced at levels below subsistence requirements, achieved through the both direct shutdowns and generalized inflation, imputed a value to the industrial capacity that was not only incapable of satisfying social need, but made that capacity worthless to the general population. No better way to create an imputed value detached from use or need than by doing it on paper, by constituting the industrial plant as a corporation, with the government issuing vouchers, which were barely a value, as rights to purchase the shares of the corporations. Thus the “potential” capital was drastically discounted below the imputed value, simultaneously shrinking output, dispossessing the state, leaving the population with pieces of paper, and no means other than exchange of that paper to survive.

The market rules! Exchange value has been established, as if by magic. But there’s no magic at work. Marx wrote that, “capital comes (into the world) dripping from head to toe, from every pore with blood and dirt.” That’s not magic. That’s fact.

Paper inflated is paper discounted. The vouchers were quickly swept into the hands of insiders, traders, and the in-place management of the newly “created” enterprises: in short, an emerging bourgeoisie.

That was the infamous “voucher” program 1992-1994. At its end, the voucher program accounted for seventy-seven percent of the large and medium sized industries and 82 percent of the small industries. These accounted for two-thirds of prior industrial output and sixty percent of the industrial working place. The great dismantling could begin.

The voucher program was followed and supplemented by auctions to privatize state industries, cash purchases of shares from the government and the industries themselves. So…….state and privatized banks made cash loans to the “management” of the industries in exchange for privatization shares in the industry. The management used privatization shares as collateral for the loans, with the cash circulating between the banks and management in order to repeat this daisy chain through the purchase of privatization shares in other industries, or to purchase “distressed” shares from enterprises unable to obtain bank loans, and thus vulnerable to underbidding in the auctions.

It was a mess. Everything was in order. It was the crime of the century. It was the apotheosis of daily pettiness. There was bribery, deceit, insider trading, insiders trading on insider information. It had all the characteristics of a day or a week or a year in the life of the New York Stock Exchange.

The Russian state failed to obtain the revenue necessary to meet the wildly optimistic predictions, but under-achieving was the state’s necessary contribution.

The privatization program was a colossal failure. The privatization program was a huge success. By 1998, industrial production had declined 60 percent. In 2015, industrial production was still below the 1990 level. Employment in industrial enterprises declined from 40 percent of total employment prior to privatization to 26.8 percent in 2019. Labor force participation rates declined from 71 percent of the population to 62 percent while the overall population declined.

Only the oil and gas sector has exceeded pre-privatization production levels.

In thirty one years 1989-2020, GDP measured in constant dollars has expanded from $1.2 trillion to $1.42 trillion, or at an average rate of .59 percent per year. During this same period gross fixed capital formation in constant dollars declined by forty three percent.

Only the oil and gas sector has exceeded pre-privatization production levels, and there’s the rub.

Russia provides forty-five percent of the European gas imports, equal to forty percent of the Union’s total consumption. Russia is the third largest natural gas producer in the world. The US is the largest. While Russia wants to flatten the Ukraine in order to protect its pipeline flows into the European Union, the United States, responding to the persistent overproduction of natural gas wants to, needs to, reduce the footprint of its competitor, and reduce that footprint particularly in the European Union.

In 2021, Russian natural gas production reached a record 762 billion cubic meters, a record that was supposed to lead the way to successive years of expanding production. Exports however did not follow suit in 2021, reaching only 185 billion cubic meters, equivalent to 6.53 trillion cubic feet, partly as a result of the impaired recovery from the Covid 19 pandemic.

Russia’s importance as a supplier of natural gas, and the importance of exports of natural gas to its economy is well known.

Perhaps less well known, US liquified natural gas exports to Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom increased almost six-fold between 2018 and 2020, to more than 882 billion feet.

Which country is missing from that list of customers? Germany, the terminus of the Nordstream 2 pipeline.

Less well known, capital investments in US LNG production facilities increased in 2021 for the first time in three years.

Less well known, in January 2022, Gazprom’s exports fell by more than one-third from the year earlier, while US exports to Europe increased five-fold from the year earlier. US LNG volumes are already capable of replacing forty percent of the Russian supplies to Europe.

The war in the Ukraine is a war for the European market. Marxists have no interest in defending any of the contesting parties, including the government of the Ukraine.

We do have every interest in eliminating the cause of this conflict, this misery imposed upon the people of the Ukraine, this capitalism red in tooth and claw.

Unrealistic for Marxists to expect workers of Russia, the Ukraine, in Europe, and in the United States to act in their class interest with the Russian Army laying siege to Kyiv? No more unrealistic that the accomplishment of the Parisian workers chasing away the government of the bourgeoisie, creating the Commune with the Prussian Army at the gates to Paris.

This is the war without end, and only the uninterrupted proletarian revolution stands a chance against it.

S. Artesian

March 10, 2022

2 thoughts on “Then and Now, Here and There”

  1. Very good and excellent class socialist analyzes of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Analysis somewhat absent in Marxism in general today, I’m afraid.
    1.- ”The proletarian struggle is an international class struggle and there is no such thing as socialism in an oblast”.
    ”Vlad with P is wrong again. On the one hand, there is no such thing as the “historical destiny of Russia and its peoples” separate and apart from the “destiny” of all countries and all peoples.
    Nothing to improve. Indeed, the economic subject State, which is the one that builds and produces the Nation product, is not “outside” of the class struggle. It is, de facto, although somewhat forgotten in the Marxist analysis, the main economic-business subject of that struggle in addition to the capitalist class. And yes, it is true, humanity is heading towards a single nation. It is his destiny and no other much to the regret of the imperial Putins. And it is very likely that there will be a good step towards it in the next 2/3 decades. Step that will be the result of the socialist revolution necessary to end this war that is beginning. I only add a communist slogan: ”one class in one country”.

    2.- ”This is war without end, and only the uninterrupted proletarian revolution has a chance against it”. It will not be a “permanent” revolution (that category does not exist) but it must be a world revolution “from east to west” that ends the war(s). They are not going to end them, they never have, those who benefit economically (capitalist ruling class, ”The war in Ukraine is a war for the European market”) and only those who are harmed (working classes ).
    Less good analysis
    .’’The Marxists have no interest in defending any of the contending parties, including the government of Ukraine’ .
    You have been smart to speak only of the “government of Ukraine” because if you were to speak of Ukraine, someone (myself) would immediately ask you, what do we do with the 44 million Ukrainians? They have no interest for a socialist?. Would you say the same of the 330 million Americans, including your own family, targeted by Putin?
    I wouldn’t say it, don’t try to say it. And I would agree with you, just as I agree to help the Ukrainians or the Spanish if that is the case.
    Theoretically and from a point of view of revolutionary strategy, this point of view can be called “Reform + Revolution”, in homage to Rosa Luxemburg. It means that R + R must go at the same time and place. It means that at the same time that a revolution is promoted and organized (second R) everything possible must be done to save the neck and ensure the means of subsistence of the working classes in any type of situation (first R, Reform). For example, you yourself have done it in the case of the Covid-19 pandemic by defending the need for Public Health. But he does not do it by defending the neck of the Ukrainians. That they are different necks from those of the Zelensky government and not at all guilty of the conflict. So I help the Ukrainians (or those sick with Covid19) but at the SAME TIME and PLACE I say and promote that it is insufficient, provisional and precarious help and that it will be necessary to carry out a proletarian revolution. This is the R+R strategy.

    1. Appreciate the comments. Re defending Ukraine: Of course we defend the people of Ukraine. The defense of the people is separate and apart, and opposed to the policies of the Ukraine government; of Putin’s greater Slavic enclave; and of US/EU/NATO machinations to create 2,3, many failed states. See the prior article on Ukraine

      Re “permanent revolution”– I’ll simply reproduce here the remarks I made over on Michael Roberts’ website (with better editing):

      It’s necessary to get the specifics of “permanent revolution” correct before chucking it, or rather instead of chucking it into the dustbin for history.” Permanent revolution” does NOT mean that capitalism is permanently in the midst of a revolutionary ferment; it does NOT mean that regardless of external conditions, the working class is automatically assured of taking power.

      Permanent revolution, or rather “uninterrupted” or “telescoped” revolution was the first recognition of uneven and combined development. This recognition grasped that a “stages” theory of revolution, i.e. bourgeois revolution must precede capitalist development; capitalist development must precede proletarian revolution, is a formalist construction that does not correspond to the actual material conditions where the “backward” “archaic” “pre-capitalist” relations are a)intertwined with the “advanced” capitalist relations and b) represent the inability of capitalism to sweep away the impediments to expanded productivity in relations of land and labor (agriculture, ). Capitalism cannot discharge those tasks of development historically thought to be part of the capitalist mode of production.

      The revolutionary struggle, when it emerges from the conflict between means and relations of production, may APPEAR to be, or APPEAR to require, a bourgeoisie and a bourgeois revolution. However, the struggle is essentially a struggle against all the relations of private ownership and can only be resolved by the taking of power by the proletariat, a proletariat opposed to and independent of the bourgeoisie, big small national local, whatever. Clearly that has been the lesson of the Russian Revolution in its advance and decline; and also demonstrated by the defeats in the past of China, Spain, Vietnam in 1945, Chile in 1973, South Africa 1976–1994.

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