Stop the war in Ukraine!
Editorial Board, WSWS, Oct 3 2022

Not since Oct 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, has the world come so close to nuclear war as today. It is not necessary to glorify the Stalinist leader Nikita Khrushchev, let alone the imperialist president of the US, John F Kennedy, to note that there is a profound difference between the reaction to that crisis and the one gripping the world today. In a recently published book on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nuclear Folly, historian Sergei Plokhy wrote that, despite enormous miscalculations and misjudgments on both sides:

The crisis did not develop into a shooting war because Kennedy and Khrushchev both feared nuclear weapons and dreaded the very idea of their use. Kennedy and Khrushchev did not step into the traps so masterfully created by themselves because they did not believe they could win a nuclear war, nor were they prepared to pay a price for such a victory. It is hard to imagine what the outcome of the Cuban crisis might have been if the two leaders had a more cavalier attitude toward the use of nuclear arms.

In the midst of a new global nuclear crisis, the US/NATO and Russia seem to be proceeding in a manner aimed at demonstrating what this outcome would be. Having launched the invasion of Ukraine with the naïve and desperate assumption that he could compel his Western “partners” to negotiate, Russian President Vladimir Putin confronts the staggering failure of his bankrupt and reactionary strategy in Ukraine. The Russian military has suffered a series of defeats in recent weeks, including the debacle in Kharkiv followed by further advances of the Ukrainian military into territory that Russia now claims as its own. Russia was goaded by the US into a war for which it was unprepared, underestimating the agenda of the US and NATO. Facing internal crisis and recriminations within the Russian oligarchy, the Putin regime is responding with unmistakable threats to use nuclear weapons. On the other hand, the US and NATO, determined to press their advantage in pursuit of their geopolitical objectives, are making statements that they will not be “deterred” by the threat of nuclear war. In in American newspapers and on television programs, there is open discussion about the possibility of nuclear war. The NYT, under the headline, “In Washington, Putin’s threats stir growing alarm ,” wrote on Saturday:

Officials in Washington are gaming out scenarios should President Vladimir V Putin decide to use a tactical nuclear weapon to make up for the failings of Russian troops in Ukraine. A range of officials suggested that if Russia detonated a tactical nuclear weapon on Ukrainian soil, the options included some kind of military response.

Asked by ABC Face the Nation what the US would do if Russia used a nuclear weapon, former DCI David Petraeus replied:

We would respond by leading a NATO, a collective effort, that would take out every Russian conventional force that we can see and identify on the battlefield in Ukraine and also in Crimea and every ship in the Black Sea.

The general seems to believe that the US and NATO can wipe out Russian military forces, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, without retaliation. Would anyone believe that such an action would not put the populations of London, Berlin, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago in danger of nuclear annihilation? The level of recklessness was summed up by an unnamed European official quoted in the WaPo in an article headlined, “Russia’s annexation puts world ‘two or three steps away’ from nuclear war”:

No one knows what Putin will decide to do. But he’s totally in a corner, he’s crazy … and for him there is no way out. The only way out for him is total victory or total defeat and we are working on the latter one. We need Ukraine to win and so we are working to prevent worst case scenarios by helping Ukraine win.

In other words, whatever the consequences, the US and NATO powers are determined to pursue a course that leads to the “total defeat” of Russia. Far from preventing the “worst case scenario,” these statements are fueling the fire that is leading to this outcome. On the edge of the abyss, the position of the imperialist powers is: “War until complete victory.” Moreover, though the US and NATO powers now rail against Putin’s threats, it is a matter of historical fact that the US has not only used nuclear weapons in the past, but it and other imperialist powers have discussed using nuclear weapons to avert military defeat. In 1950, General Douglas MacArthur sought authorization to use as many as 30 atomic bombs against Chinese troops crossing the border into Korea. In 1954, France pleaded with US President Eisenhower to use nuclear bombs to save its encircled troops at Dien Bien Phu. In 1962, Kennedy himself threatened to use nuclear weapons during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1973, Israel, facing defeat during the initial days of the Yom Kippur War, came close to using nuclear weapons against Egypt.

What is most astonishing is that, with all discussion of the possibility of nuclear war, there is no suggestion that measures should be taken to bring an end to the war. Desperation and recklessness may describe the moods gripping Washington and Moscow, but not their source. A political explanation must be found for this behavior. The desperation of the Putin regime arises from the fact that it is confronted with the consequences of the dissolution of the USSR, a historic betrayal that set into motion all the subsequent socioeconomic and political disasters. In dissolving the Soviet Union, the Stalinist bureaucracy deluded itself into believing that the fundamental laws of history analyzed by Marx and Lenin were a myth. Instead, thirty years since the collapse of the USSR, Russia is confronted with a war by the imperialist powers aimed at dismembering it and reducing it to a colony. The imperialist powers, above all the US, are pursuing the long-standing objective that somehow through war they can overcome an interlocking series of economic and social crises. Despite the disasters created by the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, the American ruling class believes that through war it can somehow stave off the growth of working-class opposition that haunts them. Amidst all of this, there is no frank statement of the implications of the potential consequences of nuclear war. They are talking about the instigation of an event that could kill hundreds of thousands, or even billions of people.

What accounts for the difference between the response to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the situation today? Ultimately, the fact that the Cuban Missile Crisis did not lead to nuclear war can be attributed to the character of the political period. American imperialism was passing through the era of the postwar capitalist boom. The Soviet Union, encompassing one-sixth of the world’s land mass, was in an immeasurably stronger position than the desperate and encircled Russian state. Putin’s national chauvinism and xenophobia offer no alternative to the crisis created by US imperialism. Putin, speaking for a parasitic Russian oligarchy, fears the Russian working class even more than he does the US and the West. His response to the disaster created by the dissolution of the USSR blends the medieval obscurantism of Tsarist Russia with the counter-revolutionary traditions of Stalinism. No faith can be placed on the “reasonableness” of the American or Russian oligarchy. The pandemic has already revealed the utter indifference to human life, both of the Russian oligarchy, which has accepted the death of 400k people in Russia, and the American ruling class, which has implemented a policy that has led to the deaths of more than one million people. What is necessary is the development of a mass anti-war movement of the working class, mobilizing behind it broad sections of the population and youth. The working class must demand the immediate end to this reactionary war. It is necessary to unify the struggle by workers in defense of their social and democratic rights with the struggle against war. Above all, the building of a new anti-war movement must be based on the perspective of international socialism, rejecting all forms of nationalism and xenophobia and fighting for the unity of workers in every country.

For purposes of reference, here are the WaPo & NYT articles referred to above:

Russia’s annexation puts world ‘two or three steps away’ from nuclear war
Liz Sly, WaPo, Oct 1 2022

LONDON — President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of the annexation of four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine signals the onset of a new and highly dangerous phase in the seven-month war, one that Western officials and analysts fear could escalate to the use of nuclear weapons for the first time in 77 years. Putin has previously threatened to resort to nuclear weapons if Russia’s goals in Ukraine continue to be thwarted. The annexation brings the use of a nuclear weapon a step closer by giving Putin a potential justification on the grounds that “the territorial integrity of our country is threatened,” as he put it in his speech last week. He renewed the threat on Friday with an ominous comment that the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki created a “precedent” for the use of nuclear weapons, echoing references he has made in the past to the US invasion of Iraq as setting a precedent for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

US and Western officials say they still think it unlikely that Putin will carry out his threats. Most probably, they say, he is hoping to deter the West from providing ever more sophisticated military assistance to Ukraine while the mobilization of an additional 300k troops allows Russia to reverse or at least halt its military setbacks on the battlefield. But the threats appear only to have strengthened Western resolve to continue sending weapons to Ukraine and the Ukrainian military is continuing to advance into Russian-occupied territory. On Saturday, the Ukrainian army seized control of the eastern city of Lyman in an area ostensibly annexed by Russia on Saturday. The collapse of another Russian front line was greeted by calls for nuclear strikes by some military bloggers and political figures in Russia, including the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Putin, who wrote in a comment on his Telegram channel:

More drastic measures should be taken, up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons.

In all four regions that Putin said he was annexing (Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia) Russia only controls part of the territory. Now that the areas being fought over are regarded by Moscow as Russian, it is possible to chart a course of events toward the first use of a nuclear weapon since the 1945 atomic bombing of Japan. Franz-Stefan Gady, a senior fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London (Arundel House), said:

It’s a low probability event, but it is the most serious case of nuclear brinkmanship since the 1980s. It is a very dangerous situation and it needs to be taken seriously by Western policy-makers.

US and European officials say they are taking the threats seriously. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that there would be “catastrophic consequences” if Russia resorts to the use of nuclear weapons. He refused to specify what those would be but said the precise consequences had been spelled out privately to Russian officials “at very high levels.” He said:

They well understand what they would face if they went down that dark road.

European officials say the threats have only strengthened their resolve to support Ukraine. An EU official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive subject (Borrell? – RB), said:

No-one knows what Putin will decide to do, no-one. But he’s totally in a corner, he’s crazy and for him there is no way out. The only way out for him is total victory or total defeat, and we are working on the latter one. We need Ukraine to win, and so we are working to prevent worst-case scenarios by helping Ukraine win.

The goal, the official said, is to give Ukraine the military support it needs to continue to push Russia out of Ukrainian territory, while pressuring Russia politically to agree to a cease-fire and withdrawal, the official said. And the pressure is working, “slowly,” the official said, to spread awareness in Russia and internationally that the invasion was a mistake. India, which had seemed to side with Russia in the earliest days of the war, has expressed alarm at Putin’s talk of nuclear war and China, ostensibly Russia’s most important ally, has signaled that it is growing uneasy with Putin’s continuing escalations. But the annexation and the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of extra troops have also served as a reminder that the Western strategy hasn’t yet worked enough to convince Putin that he can’t win, said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Endowment who was based in Moscow until earlier this year. The West had been hoping that Ukrainian successes would force Putin to back down, but instead he is doubling down. Gabuev said:

Time and again we are seeing that Vladimir Putin sees this as a big existential war and he’s ready to up the stakes if he is losing on the battlefield. At the same time I don’t think the West will back down, so it’s a very hard challenge now. We are two or three steps away…

… from Russia failing to achieve its goals and resorting to what was once unthinkable. Those steps to secure its positions include Russia pushing hundreds of thousands more men onto the battlefield; escalating attacks on civilian targets and infrastructure in Ukraine; and perhaps also embarking on covert attacks on Western infrastructure. Although the US and its European allies have refrained from making direct accusations, few doubt that Russia was behind the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. The EU official said:

I don’t think anyone has doubts. It’s the handwriting of the Kremlin. It’s an indication of “look what is coming, look what we are able to do.”

Gady said that nuclear weapons would only likely be used after mobilization, sabotage and other measures have failed to turn the tide, and it’s unclear what Putin would achieve by using them. Despite some wild predictions on Russian news shows that the Kremlin would lash out at a Western capital, with London appearing to be a favored target, it is more likely that Moscow would seek to use one of its smaller, tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield to try to gain advantage over Ukrainian forces. The smallest nuclear weapon in the Russian arsenal delivers an explosion of around 1 kiloton, one fifteenth of the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which would inflict massive destruction but on a more limited area. Because the war is being fought along a vast 1,500-mile front line, troops are too thinly spread out for there to be an obvious target whose obliteration would change the course of the war. To make a difference, Russia would have to use several nuclear weapons, or alternatively strike a major population center such as Kyiv, either of which would represent a massive escalation, trigger almost certain Western retaliation and turn Russia into a pariah state even with its allies. Gady said:

From a purely military perspective, nuclear weapons would not solve any of Vladimir Putin’s military problems. To change the operational picture one single attack would not be enough and it would also not intimidate Ukraine into surrendering territory. It would cause the opposite; it would double down Western support and I do think there would be a US response.

That’s why many believe Putin won’t carry out his threats. Ben Hodges, a former commander of US Army Europe, said:

Even though Putin is dangerous, he is not suicidal, and those around him aren’t suicidal.

Pentagon officials have said they have seen no actions by Russia that would lead the US to adjust its nuclear posture.

In Washington, Putin’s nuclear threats stir growing alarm
David Sanger, Anton Troianovski, Julian Barnes, NYT, Oct 1 2022

WASHINGTON — For the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis in Oct 1962, top Russian officials are making explicit nuclear threats, and officials in Washington are gaming out scenarios should President Vladimir Putin decide to use a tactical nuclear weapon to make up for the failings of Russian troops in Ukraine. In a speech on Friday, Mr Putin raised the prospect anew, declaring again that he would use “all available means” to defend Russian territory, which he has now declared includes four provinces of eastern Ukraine. Mr Putin reminded the world of President Harry Truman’s decision to drop atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 77 years ago, adding:

By the way, they created a precedent.

Senior American officials say they think the chances that Mr Putin would employ a nuclear weapon remain low. They say they have seen no evidence that he is moving any of his nuclear assets, and a recent Pentagon analysis suggests the military benefits would be few. And the cost for Mr Putin, in a furious international response, perhaps even from the Chinese whose support he needs most, could be tremendous. But they are far more worried about the possibility now than they were at the beginning of the Ukraine conflict in February. After a series of humiliating retreats, astoundingly high casualty rates (? – RB) and a deeply unpopular move to draft young Russian men into service, Mr Putin clearly sees the threat of his nuclear arsenal as a way to instill fear, and perhaps to recover some respect for Russia’s power. Most important, he may see the threat of unleashing part of his stockpile of roughly 2k so-called tactical nuclear weapons as a way to extort concessions that he has been unable to win on the battlefield. Such weapons involve much smaller, less powerful warheads than those used in ICBMs, which can destroy whole cities. Some tactical nuclear warheads are small enough to fit in individual artillery rounds, though they can still devastate and irradiate a few blocks, or a single military base. In a reminder that making first use of nuclear weapons is an integral part of Russian military strategy, Mr Putin said last month:

This is not a bluff.

Last weekend, President Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan responded that any nuclear weapon use would result in “catastrophic consequences” for Russia, adding that in private communications with Moscow, the US had “spelled out” how America and the world would react. Such threats and counterthreats, seemingly right out of the worst moments of the Cold War, are exactly the kind that most Americans and Russians thought had ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. For a quarter of a century, both sides celebrated a reduction in their strategic weapons, the ICBMs that can reach across oceans. Congress spent billions of dollars in the 1990s on programs that paid for dismantling old Soviet warheads and blending them down into fuel for nuclear power plants. For years, American homes were lit in part with the remnants of city-busting bombs. When nuclear threats were made, it was mostly by aspiring atomic powers like North Korea, which has not yet demonstrated that its weapons can reach American shores. But in the past seven months that has changed.

In issuing his warning to Russia last week, Mr Sullivan declined to describe the playbook of American or NATO responses, knowing that one key to Cold War deterrence was some degree of ambiguity. But in background conversations, a range of officials suggested that if Russia detonated a tactical nuclear weapon on Ukrainian soil, the options included some kind of military response, most likely be delivered by the Ukrainians with Western-provided conventional weapons. For their part, Russian analysts and officials see the specter of nuclear conflict as giving a distinct advantage to their side. Because the outcome of the war in Ukraine is of existential significance to the Kremlin but not to the White House, the analysts say that Russian officials seem to believe they would have the advantage in the test of wills that nuclear brinkmanship represents. Dmitri Medvedev, a former Russian president and vice-chairman of the National Security Council, laid out that thesis this past week in a post on Telegram. If Russia were forced to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, he argued, it was unlikely that NATO would intervene militarily because of the risk that a direct attack on Russia could lead to all-out nuclear war. Medvedev wrote:

Overseas and European demagogues are not going to perish in a nuclear apocalypse. Therefore, they will swallow the use of any weapon in the current conflict.

As the full extent of Ukraine’s gains in its September counter-offensive became apparent, the Biden administration intensified its study of the steps that Mr Putin might take to reverse the perception that the Russian Army was losing the war. Administration officials quickly saw some of their predictions come true, as Mr Putin announced a mobilization of military reserves despite the dissent it provoked. Now, with Mr Putin’s formal annexation of Ukrainian territory, worry is rising in Washington. Should Ukraine be able to build on its success, and Mr Putin face humiliating defeat, US officials are concerned he might quickly push through the remaining steps and consider the use of a nuclear weapon. And with Russian forces retreating from the strategic railroad hub of Lyman, in territory formally annexed by Moscow on Friday, Russia continues to lose ground in eastern Ukraine. Mr Putin clearly sees Russia’s nuclear arsenal as the foundation of what remains of Russia’s great power status. He has trumpeted its world-destroying potential in his state-of-the-nation speeches and has insisted that in the event of a nuclear war, “we would go to paradise as martyrs, while they would simply perish.” The revelation of the Ukraine conflict, that Russia’s conventional forces were poorly trained, unimaginative and ill-equipped, has made Mr Putin all the more dependent on his unconventional weapons, an inherently unstable balance of forces. Vasily Kashin, who specializes in military and political issues at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow:

We’re in a situation in which superiority in resources and conventional weaponry is on the side of the West. Russia’s power is based on its nuclear arsenal.

The problem for Mr Putin is how to wring real-world advantage from the destructive force of Russia’s nuclear warheads without actually using them. To some degree, he has been successful. Mr Biden’s reluctance to put American or NATO troops into direct combat roles, or to provide Ukraine with weapons that could strike deep inside Russia, is rooted in concern about nuclear escalation. But Mr Putin also faces constraints. His threat to use nuclear weapons must seem credible, and the repeated incantation of nuclear threats can undermine their effectiveness. The threat may be more effective than actually using a weapon because the cost to Russia of breaking a 77-year taboo could be astronomically high. Most experts think he would reach for them only if Russia (or Mr Putin himself) felt an existential threat. Graham Allison, the author of a seminal 1971 book about the Cuban Missile Crisis named Essence of Decision, said:

The chance that Putin would strike out of the blue seems very low. But, as Kennedy said back then, the plausible scenario is if a leader is forced to choose between a catastrophic humiliation and a roll of the dice that might yield success.

Mr Allison suspects Mr Putin will not face that choice unless Ukraine succeeds in pushing Russian forces out of the areas Mr Putin annexed on Friday. For that reason, the next few weeks could prove a particularly dangerous time, a range of American and European officials agree. But Mr Putin is not likely to use a nuclear weapon immediately. His initial steps, according to the officials, would probably involve a sabotage campaign in Europe, attacking Ukraine’s energy infrastructure or targeting senior officials in Kyiv. Some officials wonder if the attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines may have been a first step, though it is not clear Russia was behind that sabotage. But by escalating his nuclear threats in combination with the annexation, Mr Putin appears to have two goals in mind. One is to scare the US and NATO away from direct intervention in Ukraine. The second is to force the West to back off supporting Ukraine at all, or to perhaps force the Ukrainians to the negotiating table in a disadvantageous position.

In Russia, the airwaves are filled with threats that constantly refer to Moscow’s nuclear options. In a recent state television interview, the foreign policy analyst Dmitri Trenin said that Russia needed to convince Washington that escalation could lead to nuclear strikes against the American mainland. Mr Trenin said:

The American strategy of inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia is based on the belief that Russia will not use nuclear weapons: Either it will be afraid, or it will consider that the destruction of civilization is still too high a price for maintaining its position. And here, in my opinion, lies a potentially fatal miscalculation for all of humanity.

But the threshold at which Mr Putin would resort to nuclear weapons, or how he would use them, is far from clear. Another analyst, Ivan Timofeev, said in a phone interview that he believed that Mr Putin would use them only in the event of direct NATO intervention in Ukraine. Using them against Ukrainian forces in the context of the current war would bring limited military advantage while deepening Russia’s international isolation. Mr Timofeev, the program director for the Russian International Affairs Council, a research organization close to the Russian government, said:

I don’t see the possibility that China or India or any other country friendly to Russia would support such a decision. If you look at interests pragmatically and rationally, this scenario is not beneficial to Russia.

Mr Kashin, the Higher School of Economics professor, said that his analysis of recent statements by Russian officials led him to conclude that Mr Putin’s annexation on Friday was a signal that further major gains by Ukraine could lead to nuclear use. Mr Kashin said:

These territories will not be given up.

Mr Putin’s veiled threats about using nuclear weapons have suggested he has also given thought to large-scale game-changing strikes. He said last year that anyone threatening Russia’s core interests would face an “asymmetric, swift and tough” response. And in June, he was vague when asked how he would respond if Ukraine and the West crossed certain “red lines” in the war. But Mr Putin warned that Russia could target “decision-making centers,” a broad term that analysts have interpreted as major government buildings and other military and political hubs. He said:

With regard to the red lines, let me keep this to myself, because on our part it will include fairly tough actions targeted at the decision-making centers.

Finally, to return to WSWS:

Amid mounting crises, Chinese Communist Party to reappoint Xi Jinping as leader
Peter Symonds, WSWS, Oct 3 2022

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) congress, due to start on October 16, takes place as China confronts mounting crises on all fronts. Internally, the economy has been slowing drastically, leading to rising unemployment, particularly among young people, and sharp social tensions. Externally, the US is intensifying its aggressive confrontation with China on all fronts, diplomatic, economic and military. The CCP congress, which occurs every five years, will be one of crisis. It is expected to break from past practice and install Xi Jinping for a third term as the party’s general secretary and thus the country’s president. Xi foreshadowed the change when in 2018 the National People’s Congress amended the country’s constitution to remove the previous two-term limit on the presidency and vice-presidency that had been in place for three decades.

The US and Western media is rife with speculation about the CCP’s internal machinations and whether or not Xi will be reinstalled. In an article last week entitled “China becomes ‘hothouse’ of intrigue ahead of crucial Communist party congress,” the Guardian referred to rumours of a military coup that were trending on social media, before all but dismissing them as unfounded. It appears that the rumour was based on nothing more than large numbers of flight cancellations and unsourced videos of military vehicles. The Guardian, along with other media, noted the convictions last month of top-level Chinese officials on corruption charges, describing it as “one of the biggest Chinese political purges in years.” Among those jailed were former vice-minister of public security Sun Lijun, ex-justice minister Fu Zhenghua, and former provincial police chiefs of Shanghai, Chongqing and Shanxi. Those convicted were accused of being part of a clique that was disloyal to Xi. The Indian-based Observer Research Foundation pointed out that Sun and Fu were significant figures in China’s highly-sensitive security establishment. Fu had been closely involved in Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, which Xi had used to bring down key political rivals. Fu was instrumental in the investigation into Zhou Yongkang, formerly the country’s security chief and member of the party’s top Politburo Standing Committee, who was convicted of corruption in 2015.

From top to bottom, the CCP apparatus is riddled with corruption, which has massively expanded as the regime presided over the restoration of capitalism from 1978, the plunder of state-owned enterprises and the dominance of the market over every aspect of the economy. But corruption charges against top officials are invariably the means by which factional disputes are settled behind closed doors. Prior to Xi’s installation as general secretary in 2012, Bo Xilai, Chongqing party secretary and potential rival for the post, was detained and convicted of corruption charges. The media focus on the CCP’s internal party tensions clearly reflects Washington’s ambitions to exploit any divisions within the Chinese regime to weaken and fracture China, which it regards as the chief threat to US global dominance. The CCP congress is being held amid the mounting danger of world war. Even as the Biden administration has recklessly ramped up the US-NATO war against Russia, bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war, it also has dramatically escalated tensions with China over Taiwan. Beijing is acutely aware that China could be embroiled in the expanding US-led war in Ukraine and that Washington’s war aims involve not only the weakening and subordination of Russia, but China as well. Despite intense international pressure, Beijing has not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Xi’s only international travel since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was to attend last month’s two-day summit of the SCO in Uzbekistan. He met with Putin, whom he called an “old friend,” and declared that China would work with Russia “to inject stability and positive energy into a world rocked by chaos.” Putin indirectly acknowledged Beijing’s fears of an escalating war. Putin said:

We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis. We understand your questions and concern about this.

The Biden administration has not only intensified the US military build-up and provocations against China in the Indo-Pacific region, but maintained the extensive trade sanctions and bans imposed on China by the Trump White House. Amid deepening global financial and economic instability, the punitive trade measures have been a contributing factor to the dramatic slowing of the Chinese economy. The latest World Bank forecast said the Chinese economy would grow by just 2.8% in 2022, well below China’s official target of 5.5%. Amid mounting debt, the economy is also plagued by financial instability, particularly in the property sector where huge corporations such as Evergrande face bankruptcy.

The CCP’s restoration of capitalism was accompanied by the claim that it would bring prosperity that would ensure the well-being of all. A growth rate of 8% was held up as the benchmark for achieving low levels of unemployment and social stability. The official unemployment rate, which only covers urban areas, was down marginally to 5.4% in July, but the youth jobless rate hit a record of 19.9%. The domestic and geopolitical crises facing China are undoubtedly fuelling tensions within the CCP apparatus. Some have criticised Xi, saying he should have been more conciliatory toward the US and further opened up the Chinese economy to foreign investment. On social media, however, stridently nationalist voices have argued for militarist responses. The government is also under mounting pressure internationally and from sections of business and the middle classes, on which the CCP has increasingly rested, to ease COVID restrictions that have successfully prevented millions of deaths.

However, amid the escalating tensions, Xi has apparently strengthened his grip on power and taken over the oversight of all areas of government policy. This includes the economy, which was in the past largely the province of the premier. Li Keqiang, who was installed as premier along with Xi and was identified with World Bank plans for further pro-market restructuring, has been largely sidelined. He is expected to be dropped from the top leadership at the upcoming congress. Xi, however, is now routinely referred to as “the core” of the government and the party. He may well be accorded new accolades and titles at the congress. However, Xi’s seemingly unchallengeable position stems not from any inherent strength of Xi as an individual or of the CCP as a whole. Rather, in conditions of acute class tensions, he has been elevated to preside over the competing factions, mediate disputes and prevent the divisions from blowing the party and government apart. In a perspective in 2018 entitled “Xi Jinping’s power grab: Bonapartism with Chinese characteristics,” the WSWS explained:

Xi’s emergence as China’s political strongman is not a function of his personal characteristics, but rather is a reflection above all of the extreme social tensions wracking the country. Confronting a deteriorating economy and the prospect of social upheaval, the Chinese bureaucracy is desperately seeking to consolidate its forces around the figure of Xi — a form of rule that Marxists have classically designated as Bonapartist.

As the article explained, Bonapartism is an inherently unstable and temporary balance of class forces. While all the signs point to Xi being installed at the upcoming congress as China’s paramount leader for another five years, his future and that of the CCP itself is far from certain. Amid the rising tide of class struggle internationally, the re-emergence of the Chinese working class will shatter the illusory strength of the regime. The crucial issue for workers in China, as internationally, is the construction of the necessary revolutionary socialist leadership capable of leading those struggles.

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