Spartacist Canada No. 190
Canada, NATO Out of the Baltics, Ukraine!
Trudeau Boosts Washington's Anti-Russia Crusade
NATO military provocations against Russia have escalated dramatically in recent months, with the government in Ottawa avidly backing its senior partner in Washington. Following Canada’s participation in a series of military manoeuvres near Russia’s western border in June, Justin Trudeau announced at the July NATO summit in Warsaw that a Canadian battle group would be stationed in the tiny Baltic state of Latvia starting in early 2017. This force—consisting of 450 troops, armoured vehicles, a frigate and as many as six CF-18 fighter aircraft—is to be part of ongoing NATO deployments in the three Baltic republics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) as well as Poland. A separate 40,000-strong NATO rapid reaction force is also being formed in East Europe amid a steady propaganda barrage in the Western press denouncing “Russian aggression.”
Largely unreported in the bourgeois media, the scale of the current NATO military provocations is unprecedented. This year alone, around 150 NATO-backed military exercises involving tens of thousands of personnel have been scheduled or completed in Finland, south through the Baltic states and in virtually every country of the former Soviet bloc in East Europe, as well as adjacent waters and airspace. Just one of these, the June Anaconda exercise in Poland, involved 31,000 troops from 24 countries including 18 NATO member states. At the same time, the U.S. is transferring heavy equipment and weaponry to various East European countries, to be left in place as a standing threat to Russia’s civilian populations across the border.
Washington’s bellicosity toward Moscow has even alarmed some of its allies, compelling German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to call out the U.S. for “sabre-rattling and warmongering.” Nonetheless, NATO forces in the Baltics will also include German troops for the first time, grotesquely retracing the steps of Hitler’s genocidal Wehrmacht which once claimed these territories as part of its drive for lebensraum (“living space”) for German imperialism. The Hitlerites were crushed by the Red Army at a cost of over 27 million Soviet lives, a fact that still burns in the memory of millions of Russian citizens.
Virulent anti-Russian nationalism has long been a calling card of the capitalist rulers in the Baltic states, which have significant ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking minorities. This has fuelled the resurgence of deeply reactionary forces, including open fascists. A few years ago, Nazis in SS uniforms were filmed teaching a “history” lesson to a kindergarten class in Riga, the Latvian capital. Celebrations are held annually in Latvia to mark the creation of military formations of the Waffen SS, which fought alongside the Nazis against the Red Army and participated in the mass murder of Jews. Last year in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city, 500 fascists marched near the site where more than 10,000 Jews were massacred in a single day in October 1941.
This is the volatile and toxic context for NATO’s latest deployment. The conservative London Economist (10 July) noted that the NATO troops “would act as a ‘trip-wire,’ triggering a full military response by the rest of the alliance.” In the event of any border dispute or conflict—real or imagined—between any of the tiny Baltic states and neighbouring Russia, a hair-trigger NATO military response will arise automatically from the “threat” to its troops, placed on Russia’s border with exactly that aim. And NATO’s local flunkeys are chomping at the bit. “The first stage of confrontation is taking place,” ranted Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, adding: “I mean information war, propaganda and cyber attacks. So we are already under attack.”
Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991-92, successive U.S. administrations have extended NATO throughout East Europe right up to Russia’s borders (while denouncing “Russian expansionism” at every turn). U.S. destroyer groups bristling with high-tech weaponry threaten Russia from the Black Sea. Georgia and Ukraine are being groomed for NATO membership and Washington is constructing anti-ballistic missile installations in Poland and Romania. We say: Down with NATO military provocations against Russia! U.S./NATO/Canadian troops out!
The chief flashpoint for NATO’s provocations has been Ukraine. In February 2014, Washington orchestrated a coup in Kiev, replacing an elected pro-Russian government with a fascist-infested, virulently anti-Russian regime. In response, a referendum was held the following month in the strategic and historically Russian Crimean peninsula, in which the population overwhelmingly supported unification with Russia rather than continue to be under the thumb of the Kiev government. This clear-cut act of self-determination, which Marxists defend, was denounced by Western media as a “seizure” of Crimea.
A bloody civil war, now in its third year and claiming over 9,000 lives, has been waged by the Kiev regime against the largely Russian-speaking industrial Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. Both Stephen Harper’s Tories and the current Liberal government have been particularly aggressive in backing the Kiev government, in part to curry favour among the most reactionary sectors of Canada’s 1.2 million-strong Ukrainian community. Trudeau travelled to Ukraine following the NATO summit, saluting the country’s president Petro Poroshenko and observing a joint military exercise by Ukrainian and Canadian troops. Canadian soldiers and military police have been stationed in Ukraine since last year, helping to train the fascist-infested Ukrainian armed forces.
Marxists have a military side with the Donbass insurgents against the imperialist-backed Kiev government, while giving no political support whatsoever to the Great Russian chauvinist rebel leaders in the region, nor to Vladimir Putin’s capitalist regime in Russia. As proletarian internationalists, we oppose not only Ukrainian but also Russian nationalism. On this score, we have defended the Chechen people against the brutal Russian military campaigns waged by Putin and his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, and support independence for Chechnya.
The counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR, which we Trotskyists characterized as a bureaucratically degenerated workers state, was a devastating defeat for the workers of the world (see article, page 2). Today, Russia under rightist strongman Putin is a regional power dominated by corrupt capitalist oligarchs seeking to cultivate commercial and diplomatic relations with the West. However, the U.S. attitude toward the country now resembles something from the days of the 1950s Cold War era, with the vilification of Russia (and attendant demonization of Putin) a theme reiterated constantly by the media and politicians.
The U.S. imperialists’ hostility to Russia is no longer about overthrowing the collectivized property relations that were established by the October Revolution of 1917. Rather, it is an expression of Washington’s determination to keep Russia, a regional capitalist power with imperial ambitions (and 5,000 nuclear warheads), out of the club of imperialist powers. The U.S. is particularly concerned with preventing the possibility of a German-Russian alliance. Germany’s industrial base and economic prowess combined with Russia’s substantial military hardware and natural resources could constitute a future counterweight to U.S. global hegemony.
Rivalries among the major imperialist powers have largely remained muted since the fall of the USSR due to the disproportionate military strength of the U.S., which outstrips by many times over its main imperialist rivals, Germany and Japan. At the same time, American military strength is greatly disproportionate to its eroded industrial base. Significant rivalries now lurk behind the façade of European-U.S. unity against Russia. Britain provides a home for Russian oligarchs for whom London is an offshore banking centre. The French government conducts a lucrative arms trade with Moscow, while Germany has extensive trade relations with Russia, which is a major source of its energy supplies.
The increased bellicosity toward Russia also comes in the context of U.S. imperialism’s “pivot to Asia.” Washington is sponsoring a range of aggressive military actions in collaboration with Japan, the Philippines and other countries, all aimed against China. These moves reflect the overriding concern of the U.S. imperialists to effect a counterrevolution in China, where capitalist rule was overthrown through the 1949 Revolution. Their goal is to reopen that country to untrammelled imperialist exploitation.
However, the recent ratcheting up of military pressure on Russia has served to push it into China’s arms, illustrating the U.S. rulers’ difficulties in pursuing their strategic interests around the world. Russia’s fossil fuels and high-grade military technology could fill needs in China, which in turn has huge foreign exchange reserves. Russia’s vast land mass also provides a major route for China’s project of a New Silk Road for trade with Europe that avoids the threat of U.S. naval disruptions of shipping lanes.
Trotskyists stand for the unconditional military defense of China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state. The smashing of capitalist class rule in that country has brought immense gains for the worker and peasant masses. At the same time, a proletarian political revolution is needed to oust the privileged, nationalist ruling caste in Beijing and replace it with a government based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.
NATO Militarism and the Fraud of Canadian “Peacekeeping”
Imperialism is not a “policy choice” of capitalist politicians, supported by one government or party and opposed by another. It is the barbaric international system which, growing out of earlier “free market” capitalism, has defined the world for more than a century.
Writing in 1916, amid the carnage of World War I, V.I. Lenin explained in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism how under imperialism “the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established,” and “the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.” Under this system a large majority of the world’s population is subject to oppression by a handful of ruling classes in North America, Europe and Japan. While formally independent, most countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America remain “enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence.” And imperialist rivalries inevitably produce war, shown most hideously in the slaughter of tens of millions in the First and Second World Wars.
In this global system, Canada is a third-rate imperialist power whose interests are inseparably tied and subordinate to those of its U.S. senior partner. Canada was a founding member of the U.S.-led NATO alliance in 1949. At the same time, Ottawa has been well placed over the years to posture as independent of the rulers in Washington while acting in the latter’s overall interests. In particular, Canada has often provided a useful “peacekeeping” cover for the depredations of U.S. imperialism, generally under the auspices of the United Nations.
Harper’s Tory regime saw a break with this posture. The Tories glorified Canadian militarism, dismissed “peacekeeping” and the UN, and displayed open contempt for the wretched of the earth. By the end of the Harper years, such provocative stances had produced exasperation among sections of the capitalist class as well as the Obama administration in Washington. A key foreign policy aim of the new Liberal government has been to revive the “peacekeeping” fraud (now rebranded as “peace operations”), a return to Ottawa’s duplicitous “soft cop” role on behalf of U.S. imperialism.
Right-wing military historian Sean M. Maloney captured Ottawa’s traditional role in his 2002 book Canada and UN Peacekeeping: Cold War by Other Means, 1945-1970. Aptly characterizing “UN peacekeeping as NATO strategy by other means,” Maloney notes how:
“During the Cold War, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, all permanent members of the Security Council, remained aloof in several difficult circumstances as a sort of plausible deniability. Canada was the West’s champion in the Cold War UN arena.”
The examples are legion. Acting under a UN fig leaf, in 1960 Canadian troops entered the Congo to help topple the radical-nationalist government of Patrice Lumumba, which was seeking support from the Soviet Union. During the American imperialists’ long, losing war against the Vietnamese workers and peasants, Canada provided ceasefire “observers” (i.e., spies for the U.S.), while supplying Washington’s war machine with $1 million a day in arms shipments. Following the destruction of the Soviet workers state, Canada continued to play a similar role, for example in sending troops to Haiti to enforce the 2004 Washington-backed coup that removed the left-populist government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
After less than a year in office, the Liberals have sharply increased Canada’s military deployments abroad. On top of the ongoing military presence in Ukraine and the coming deployment in the Baltics, Ottawa has tripled the number of special operations troops embedded with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Iraq. Further Canadian military personnel are also being sent to Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait, where they will spot targets and render other forms of deadly assistance to local forces. And while CF-18 fighter planes have been withdrawn from direct combat missions in Iraq, Canadian military aircraft remain in the region to assist with refuelling and reconnaissance for the U.S. and allied forces. All U.S. and Canadian troops and planes out of the Near East!
War, Imperialism and the Working Class
The right-wing social democrats of the NDP have backed Ottawa’s anti-Russian provocations, particularly over Ukraine, where they gave full-throated support to the insertion of Canadian troops. Today, while questioning the “additional burden on the military” involved in the Latvia deployment, the New Democrats are calling on the government to step up economic and other sanctions against Russia. Claiming that “Russia poses a significant threat to the people of Eastern Europe,” NDP leader Tom Mulcair attacked Trudeau for failing to “sanction key well-connected Russian business elites” or “freeze assets and ban visas of Russian human-rights violators” (Toronto Star, 12 July).
Long a proponent of Canadian imperialism, including its “peacekeeping” guise, the New Democrats and their allies in the labour bureaucracy tie the working people to support for the capitalist system. It is not Vladimir Putin who has run roughshod over the lives and livelihoods of workers and the poor in Canada, but the Canadian capitalist ruling class. The Bay Street bosses and their political representatives have been waging a pitiless class war against workers while attacking immigrants, Native people and other oppressed minorities.
Economically and militarily integrated with the U.S., Canada is nevertheless a junior imperialist power with its own financial interests, notably in Latin America and the Caribbean, from which it derives significant profits. Born out of the belly of British imperialism, the Canadian state was built on the violent dispossession of the indigenous population and the forcible suppression of the national rights of the francophone Québécois people.
To advance its struggles against the Canadian ruling class, the working class must champion the cause of all the oppressed, demanding full citizenship rights for all immigrants and defending indigenous rights. Thanks to the long history of Anglo-chauvinist domination, the working class is today sharply divided along national lines. To break the grip of such chauvinism, Marxists advocate independence for Quebec. This will create better conditions for the workers in both English Canada and Quebec to recognize that their own respective capitalists are their class enemies, not their allies.
Imperialist plunder and the threat of new wars can only be fought through a proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist perspective. The fundamental conflict in society is the struggle by labour against capital. Because of its central role in production, the working class has the social power to bring down the capitalist exploiters and their whole system of class exploitation, racial, sexual and national oppression and imperialist war.
In a political period marked by working-class defeats—above all, the destruction of the Soviet Union 25 years ago—today even the most politically conscious workers by and large do not identify their struggles with the goal of socialism. But the very workings of capitalist exploitation mean that deep-going class battles will erupt that pose the question of a new working-class leadership. The International Communist League and its Canadian section, the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste, devote all our efforts to forging the nucleus of a Marxist vanguard party that can imbue the working class with the consciousness of its historic mission to overthrow capitalist rule and reorganize society on a socialist basis.
The rulers of U.S. imperialism, armed with enough nuclear weaponry to destroy all human civilization, together with their allies in Ottawa and elsewhere, threaten to unleash further untold horrors upon the world. To paraphrase the great Marxist leader Rosa Luxemburg, the choice that faces humanity is imperialist barbarism or the fight for socialist revolution.