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On the “distorting lens” in the analysis of the contemporary interstate relations


On the occasion of the recent development in the Ukraine and the Balkans

Elisseos Vagenas

Member of the CC of the KKE

Responsible for the International Relations Section


If Bulgaria is deprived of the possibility of behaving like a sovereign state, let them demand the money for the lost profits from the European Commission” (statement of Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, regarding his decision to suspend the construction of South Stream pipeline after the reluctance of Bulgaria through which the pipeline was supposed to pass).

We once again need a German foreign policy for which security and peace is more important than the instructions from Washington” (Sahra Wagenknecht, MP and leader of the new social-democratic German party die LINKE during a discussion in the Bundestag on the developments in Ukraine) .

These two statements by these well known politicians refresh our memory by reiterating a well-known concept on the formation of international and interstate relations. This is a concept that actually tries to negate the reality created by the uneven development of capitalism and promotes the unrealistic position that the capitalist countries with an intermediate or high position in the imperialist system (such as Germany) are behaving as the colonies did in the past, i.e. with a blind obedience to the “metropolis”.

In addition, this concept is often embellished with the view that this situation is caused by the fact that “politics dominates the economy” and that if the economic interests held sway there wouldn’t be e.g. any EU sanctions against Russia that destroy the beneficial economic relations or any obstacles placed by the USA and the EU in the way of the construction of the natural gas pipeline South Stream. But is this true? 

The driving force of cooperation and competition

Of course one can see with the naked eye that this view has serious shortcomings. Is it plausible to argue for instance that Germany, the so called engine of the EU, i.e. one of the most powerful economies in the world, is merely a stooge of the USA that blindly follows the “instructions of Washington” as the aforementioned German MP of the opportunist Die Linke does?

Obviously, the reasons for the convergence of the capitalist giant Germany and the USA, which despite its reduction in relation to global GDP continues to be the strongest capitalist economy at the summit of the imperialist pyramid, are not to be found here. The reasons for any convergence among the capitalist states, as well as their competition, lie in their drive to safeguard the strengthening of the state power and the strength of the bourgeois class in each country. To this end, the governments, either right-wing or left-wing, though always committed to serving the bourgeois class, seek to create alliances: economic, political and military. These alliances can be both bilateral and multilateral, such as the EU and NATO.

It goes without saying that each bourgeois class participates in these agreements, unions and organizations as well in the network of the interstate relations among the capitalist countries on the basis of the strength of its country (economic, political, military) . In this framework, it is linked to the other countries via thousands of ties of interdependence, which definitely have an unequal character given that the capitalist economy is marked by unevenness.

On this basis one can find the reasons why Germany and USA converge on the question of the relations with Russia and the developments in Ukraine. We use the term convergence instead of alignment because the attitude of Germany is marked both by its common denominator with the USA i.e. the stance vis a vis Russia as well as by differentiations on this question and others as well.

It is obvious that the bourgeois class of Germany (or its strongest section) considers that in this given period its interests lie in converging with the USA to exert pressure on Russia. Of course there are sections of the German bourgeois class which have been negatively affected or even suffered an economic catastrophe due to this convergence with the USA in the attitude towards Russia. Such sections are seeking other geopolitical alliances for Germany, nevertheless, it seems that they currently give way to more powerful interests and to the general line of exerting pressure on Moscow.

The German bourgeoisie has already secured its energy supply from Russia through Nord Stream. This pipeline, with a capacity of 55 billion cubic meters crosses the Baltic Sea and directly supplies Germany with Russian natural gas. The bourgeois class of Germany takes for granted that, at least in the near future, Russia cannot cut off its supply, even if it wanted to, due to economic reasons (the need to recoup the revenues of the Russian budget) as well as due to technical reasons (the lack of other pipelines that could function as an alternative to supply other importers). With this in mind, it seeks to acquire a larger share in the world energy market at the expense of the Russian energy monopolies through the so-called “Third energy package” of the EU and at the same time reinforce its position within Ukraine.

Thus, both the cooperation and the competition among the capitalist states are motivated by the profitability of capital. The development of the relations inside the USA-Germany-Russia triangle is no exception.

The same holds true of Bulgaria. It is not a question of blind obedience against the “national interests” of Bulgaria, as is being written. First, the “national interests” of the Bulgarian bourgeois class are different from those of the working people. The Bulgarian bourgeoisie is interested above all in safeguarding its position; it seeks to have a strong support from NATO and the EU in order to be supported by them, in the instance that the working class and the popular strata challenge its power. These alliances are of crucial importance as it relies on them so as to continue and modernize the exploitation of the people of Bulgaria.

In addition, its strongest section assesses that participation in these alliances is the only way to increase its profitability and reinforce its position in the region and beyond it. Of course there are also capitalist interests that have different economic and geopolitical priorities e.g. an increased cooperation with the capitalist Russia but this does not make them pro-people forces as they have the same strategic goal: the perpetuation of the exploitation of the working class.

Politics against the economy?

V. Putin stated that “Bulgaria will lose 400 million euros annually due to the cancellation of South Stream project” and he was absolutely right. However, the Bulgarian bourgeoisie aligns itself with the EU and the USA on this particular question as it considers that it will gain more over time. That is the reason why the assessment that “politics acts against the economy” is mistaken.

This is also highlighted by the participation of our country in the EU sanctions against Russia that led to countermeasures on the part of Russia which banned the imports of Greek agricultural products into the Russian market.

The significant damage for the Greek producers as well for the exporters of Greek products to Russia was not enough to prevent the participation of the Greek government in the EU’s trade war against Russia. Why? For the same reason that it promotes the anti-people measures which are jointly decided in the framework of the EU. Because it considers that they serve the bourgeois class of the country. Even if they negatively affect the popular strata, even if they entail losses for some sections of the bourgeoisie, the overall strategic interests of the bourgeois class prevail: the participation of Greece in the EU and NATO will bring enormous profits to the bourgeois class as a whole. This is why Lenin noted that “politics is a concentrated expression of economics”.

Why the views about “sovereignty” are dangerous

In his annual speech, Vladimir Putin stressed –not unreasonably- that Ukraine has been merely a pretext for the imposition of sanctions against Russia as the West has been seeking for some time to halt the course of the country. He assessed -also reasonably- that the international competitors of Russia would like Russia to end up like Yugoslavia. At the same, time he resorted to “patriotic” phraseology in order to mislead the working people in his country. He claimed that” while for some European countries national sovereignty is an unaffordable luxury, for Russia sovereignty is a compulsory condition of its existence”. Of course this is the same man who signed the accession of Russia to the World Trade Organization that places a series of restrictions on various sectors of Russian economy.

The Russian economy, an emerging capitalist power, is linked in a multifaceted way with the world capitalist economy. These relations entail a constant interaction. Can we talk about “sovereignty” for a country that is completely dependent on international oil and natural gas prices, like capitalist Russia? The Russian annual budget draws at least half of its revenues from the energy sector, i.e. oil and natural gas. After all, can we talk about “sovereignty” for the working people, the unemployed and the other popular strata in conditions of capitalism? Is sovereignty for them the same as it is for the capitalist Roman Abramovich owner of the English football team Chelsea?

In our country there is similar talk about regaining sovereignty that emanates from SYRIZA and the Independent Greeks as well as from the ruling parties, ND and PASOK. Of course they do not call into question the participation in the EU and NATO or even more so the capitalist path of the country. Thus, it is obvious that in the name of sovereignty (i.e. in the name of its preservation or its recovery) the bourgeois politicians use misleading arguments in order to trap the working people in a struggle “under a false flag”. That is to say, to make them struggle and suffer for the interests of the bourgeois class, for the reinforcement of its position in the world capitalist system.

The positions concerning the EU fostered by the European Left Party and SYRIZA are equally dangerous. They claim that if the EU “emancipates itself” from the USA and NATO, it will allegedly become “sovereign” and chart a new European policy that will be in favour of the people and peace. SYRIZA has even stated that in this case the EU would deserve to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Nevertheless, reality shows that this “emancipation” simply means the readiness of the EU or its strongest section to struggle to acquire markets, utilizing its strength and even resorting to arms, in cooperation with NATO or on its own, something that is already happening! It is futile and misleading for the working people of Europe to expect the EU to change. The political guidelines of the EU are not determined according to who has the majority in the EU, i.e. the centre-left or the centre-right, but by the character of the social system that prevails in it: the capitalist mode of production where the basic means of production are in the hands of the few, the capitalists. This character of the EU is reflected in its treaties.

The solution for the Greek people and the other peoples does not lie in the misleading effort to beautify the EU or in aligning with bourgeois political forces which in the name of “sovereignty” are seeking to trap the popular strata into serving the interests of the strong few, the capitalists.

The only solution lies in the disengagement from all imperialist interstate alliances, the conquest of power by the working class and the socialization of the means of production.

*The article was published in the newspaper Rizospastis, organ of the CC of the KKE, on 14/12/2014.