Marxist Tactics in Wars with Contradictory Character

Çelişkili Karaktere Sahip Savaşlarda Marksist Taktikler

Tácticas marxistas en guerras de carácter contradictorio

La tactique marxiste dans les guerres de caractères contradictoires

Táticas marxistas em guerras de caráter contraditório

Marxistische Taktiken in Kriegen mit widersprüchlichem Charakter

Марксистская тактика в войнах противоречивого характера

모순적 성격을 가진 전쟁에서 맑스주의 전술

Марксистська тактика у війнах суперечливого характеру

The Ukraine War and war threats in West Africa, the Middle East and East Asia show the necessity to understand the dual character of some conflicts

By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 23 August 2023,

We are living in extraordinary times where the accelerating contradictions of decaying capitalism increasingly provoke war and sabre-rattling. In addition to the escalating tensions between the imperialist Great Powers in East and West, [1] there is the ongoing Ukraine War, [2] a looming invasion of Niger by ECOWAS (with support of France and the EU), [3] a possible attack of the crisis-ridden Netanyahu government against Gaza, [4] Hezbollah in Lebanon and/or Iran (add to this the increasing presence of American troops and navy close to Iran), [5] the intensifying tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea (the latter supported by the U.S.), [6] the long-standing Taiwan conflict between China and the U.S. [7] and, finally, the ever louder drums of war on the Korean Peninsula. [8]

At this place, we shall not repeat our analysis of each of these conflicts and refer readers to our respective documents. We shall rather deal with the methodological issues which constitute the basis for Marxists to elaborate the appropriate tactics in such conflicts. Let us go in media res.

There have been wars in history whose character was pretty obvious. Think about the various wars in the past when colonial powers invaded countries in Africa or Asia. Or, to take more actual examples, think about Russia’s two wars against the Chechen people 1994-96 and 1999-2008, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) or Israels four wars against Gaza in the years between 2008 and 2021 or its attack on Lebanon in 2006. [9]

These were clearly wars of imperialist powers against oppressed nations and semi-colonial countries – i.e. capitalist countries which are formally independent states, but which are economically and politically dominated by imperialist powers. [10] In such wars, the RCIT and other authentic socialists unconditionally sided with the oppressed and advocated their military victory against the imperialist aggressor. Shamefully, such obvious character of these wars did not prevent many self-proclaimed Marxists to fail in their anti-imperialist duty, i.e. they refused to call for the military victory of the oppressed nations and the defeat of the imperialist powers. But this was not the result of a complex character of the war but rather of these organisations’ rotten political method characterised by opportunist adaptation to imperialism.

Dual character – a dialectical “unity of opposites

However, as we pointed out repeatedly, the acceleration of inter-imperialist rivalry – provoked by the combination of capitalist decay and the rise of new Great Powers like Russia and China – results not only in tensions between the Great Powers but also in an increasing number of conflicts involving oppressed nations which have a contradictory character. This is because such rivalry also accelerates the drive of imperialist powers to expand their spheres of influence in the semi-colonial world by any means necessary. In other words, inter-imperialist rivalry provokes not only more tensions between Great Powers or proxy conflicts but also more attacks on oppressed peoples. Hence, such inter-imperialist rivalry also provokes an increasing number of liberation wars.

Such conflicts can have a contradictory character as a consequence of the fact that the semi-colonial country in conflict with an imperialist state is at the same time allied – directly or indirectly – with one (or several) rivalling Great Power.

The RCIT characterises such conflicts as wars with a dual character. This means that they entail both the character of a liberation war as well as one of inter-imperialist rivalry. The task of Marxists is to understand the dialectical nature of such conflicts as an “unity of opposites” which are in constant struggle with each other. At the same time, it is crucial for Marxists to determine the “general direction of development“, as the Soviet philosopher Abram Deborin emphasised, i.e. to identify the main character of such a conflict. [11] In other words, Marxists have to understand the main feature of conflict’s essence (“The truth of being is essence“, as Hegel appropriately said.) [12]

A concrete analysis of such wars is particularly important as we see an increasing number of conflicts which have such combined or dual character. In the case of the Ukraine War, the Western powers support the Ukraine with military aid. However, this has – at least until now – not qualitatively changed the character of the war, i.e. it remains, first and foremost, a just war of national defence of the Ukraine against Russian imperialism which socialists have to support.

In Niger, the junta of General Tiani tries to bring in Russian Wagner mercenaries and is allied with pro-Russian states (like Mali and Burkina Faso). Still Niger’s resistance against the invasion of ECOWAS troops (with French and EU support) would have a progressive character. The same is the case if war starts between Israel resp. the U.S and Iran or between the U.S. (and/or South Korea) and North Korea. In such conflicts, the RCIT advocates the defence of semi-colonial countries like Iran or North Korea against the imperialist aggressor (resp. its proxy). Naturally, such defence does not imply any political support for the bourgeois and dictatorial regimes at the top of these countries.

However, while we side with the oppressed nation against the imperialist enemy, we strictly oppose not only the latter but all Great Powers. Hence, we reject any support for sanctions, protectionism or armament of one Great Power against its rivals.

In cases where the element of inter-imperialist rivalry is the main feature of a conflict’s essence, the RCIT does not side with one camp but advocate a revolutionary defeatist position against both (“dual defeatism“). This means socialists advocate strict opposition against both camps and try to utilise the war in order to advance the class struggle against each government.

This is the case, as things are now, in the Taiwan conflict as well as in the conflict between China and the Philippines. This does not mean that we deny the existence of an element of national right of self-determination of Taiwan or the Philippines against Chinese imperialism. However, due to the concrete configuration of the conflicts and the relation of forces, such national element is, at least for now, subordinated to the inter-imperialist rivalry.

Finally, it is important to recognise that the character of a conflict can change in the course of time. It is exactly because of the dual character of such conflicts, because of their essence as dialectical “unity of opposites”, that the main feature of its character can change. Development is evolvement of inner contradictions, and it is not for nothing that Lenin called Hegel’s dialectic a “profound doctrine of development”. [13] Such development is caused by the inner contradictions of a given phenomenon (“Development is the ‘struggle’ of opposites“) and this process can result in the transformation of quantity into quality. [14]

Hence, Marxists have to analyse the concrete evolvement of a given conflict and determine if its initially dominant element – e.g. its primary character as a liberation war – weakens and the other, initially subordinated, element – inter-imperialist rivalry – becomes stronger. If such a process of transformation crosses the Rubicon, the nature of a given conflict changes. In such a case, Marxists have to adapt their tactics and replace the defence of the semi-colonial country with a dual-defeatist position. We have recently discussed this issue in some detail in several documents about the Ukraine War. [15]

Social-Imperialism and dogmatic abstentionism

Such an analysis of the contradictory nature of conflicts and its evolvement is not an abstract, academic exercise. It is rather an indispensable task of Marxists since it constitutes the basis for a correct understanding of the conflict, and consequential the elaboration of the correct tactics. A wrong analysis is the certain guide to wrong tactics. Hence, given the fact that the world situation is marked with an increasing number of wars with contradictory, dual nature, it is of growing importance for Marxists to acquire such a dialectical method in analysing conflicts and deriving the necessary tactics.

Unfortunately, most self-proclaimed socialists refuse to recognise such complex character of these conflicts – a failure which has all kinds of disastrous consequences. Many effectively side with one imperialist power. Examples for such social-imperialists are e.g. the Stalinist-Putinistas who hail Russia in its war of aggression against the Ukraine or who take the side of China. Others take the side of the oppressed country against a Great Power but ignore the interference of the imperialist rival or do not oppose the chauvinist policy of this rival. This is the case with some supporters of the Ukraine who don’t oppose the policy of sanctions by NATO against Russia or who don’t resolutely oppose the accession of the Ukraine or of other European countries to NATO or the EU. Another example for such adaptation to social-imperialism are those “anti-imperialists” who support Niger or Iran against the Western aggressor but fail to oppose – or even welcome – the interference of Russia.

Other socialists refuse such adaptation to social-imperialism but replace a concrete analysis of these conflicts with the dogma that all wars, where imperialist powers interfere on both sides in one way or another, would be automatically conflicts between “proxies” of Great Powers. As a consequence, they refuse to support the oppressed nations but advocate a reactionary abstentionist position. Such a policy negates the subjectivity of oppressed peoples and their actual struggles against imperialist domination. This is no better than “socialists” who fail to support workers in an enterprise who are on strike for higher wages by saying that such support would only help the capitalist rivals in other corporations. Behind their approach lies, as we elaborated in detail somewhere else, accommodation to imperialism. It is a method which the RCIT calls “neo-imperialist economism.[16]

Obviously, such “socialists” are useless sectarians. One does not weaken imperialism by abstractly opposing each and every struggle which is not “pure” but influenced by reactionary or even imperialist forces. One has to take concrete struggles as they are with all their inner contradictions. In order to fight back reactionary or imperialist influences, socialists need to join such struggles and fight the enemy from within and not via smart-alecky comments.

As Lenin correctly noted in 1916, at the climax of World War I: “The general staffs in the current war are doing their utmost to utilise any national and revolutionary movement in the enemy camp: the Germans utilise the Irish rebellion, the French—the Czech movement, etc. They are acting quite correctly from their own point of view. A serious war would not be treated seriously if advantage were not taken of the enemy’s slightest weakness and if every opportunity that presented itself were not seized upon, the more so since it is impossible to know beforehand at what moment, where, and with what force some powder magazine will “explode”. We would be very poor revolutionaries if, in the proletariat’s great war of liberation for socialism, we did not know how to utilise every popular movement against every single disaster imperialism brings in order to intensify and extend the crisis.[17]

A method based on the class character of the parties involved and the totality of their interests

Without a Marxist compass, socialists are lost in a world situation increasingly characterised by conflicts with a contradictory, dual character. In order to determine the character of a conflict (including its possible change over time), one needs to examine the class character of all parties involved as well as the totality of their interests as they evolve before resp. in the course of the war.

Such an approach requires, first and foremost, to understand the class nature of the states involved. Trotsky once noted: “To teach the workers correctly to understand the class character of the state – imperialist, colonial, workers’—and the reciprocal relations between them, as well as the inner contradictions in each of them, enables the workers to draw correct practical conclusions in situation.[18] Today, there exist no workers states (even not bureaucratically degenerated ones like the USSR or China before 1991/92). As we elaborated in our works, modern countries can basically be divided into imperialist states and semi-colonies (without ignoring all kind of shades within such categories). [19]

From this follows that a precondition for recognising the character of conflicts today is, among others, the correct understanding of the class character of new Great Powers like Russia [20] and China. [21] As we have noted repeatedly, many socialists have refused to recognise the imperialist character of these states which can not but result in political confusion and wrong tactics.

As a result of China’s and Russia’s rise as imperialist powers, old alliances are undermined and new alliances emerge resp. can develop in the future. Think, for example, about China’s and Russia’s expansion of influence in the Middle East or in Africa at the cost of the U.S.

As a matter of principle, Marxists are obligated to support semi-colonial countries against imperialist states. However, one must not turn such principle into an abstract dogma. It is also necessary to analyse each conflict in its concrete historical evolvement. Is it a conflict with a long history of oppression and domination or not? Likewise, one has to study the relationship of this or that semi-colonial country to a given imperialist power; likewise, which influence do other conflicts have on a given war. Such an analysis is important also in order to determine the possible change of the character of a conflict over time.

To take a few examples. In the case of the Ukraine, it is well-known that this people suffered from national oppression by Russia for more than one and a half centuries with only brief interruptions. True, Western imperialism expanded its influence in terms of economic domination since the Ukraine became an independent state in 1991 (which, however, did not eliminate Russia’s economic dominance). [22] On the other hand, when Putin invaded the Ukraine in February 2022, he tried to transform the country’s position from a semi-colony into a foreign-occupied colony (similar to what the U.S. did in Afghanistan and Iraq two decades earlier).

In the case of Niger, this country has been dominated for about a century by French imperialism – first as a colony and, since it became formally independent in 1960, as a semi-colony. The popular hatred in Niger against the French is based on this profound historical fact. The sympathies for Putin and Russia by sectors of the masses is without doubt a reactionary phenomenon. But it has a historical basis in the simple fact that Russia has never played any relevant role in West Africa and is viewed as an opponent of Western powers.

In the case of Taiwan, there exists without doubt a national element since the native Taiwanese people – in contrast to the KMT apparatus which invaded the country after its defeat against the Maoists in 1947 – always had a specific identity. The Chinese communists initially recognised this fact but later – since World War II – strictly denied it. [23] On the other hand, Taiwan as a separate entity since 1947 has always been a semi-colony which totally owed its existence to U.S. imperialism.

Another example from the recent past is the contradictory role of the YPG/PKK in Syria which, on one hand, defended the Kurdish people against Daesh but, on the other hand, played a crucial role in the occupation of large parts of the country by American troops.

It is only such a dialectical and historic approach which allows Marxists to elaborate a correct understanding of a conflict which in turn is the basis for taking a correct position with the consequential tactics.

We think that a world situation with an increasing number of conflicts with contradictory character will provoke growing confusion and division among socialists. Many will stand on the wrong side of the barricades. It is all the more urgent for authentic revolutionaries who agree on a dialectical, class-based approach to wars and who share common positions on the major conflicts in the current world situation to join forces. The RCIT looks forward to work together with such comrades in jointly building a revolutionary party – nationally and internationally!

[1] The RCIT has dealt on numerous occasions with the inter-imperialist rivalry of the Great Powers. See e.g. RCIT: World Perspectives 2021-22: Entering a Pre-Revolutionary Global Situation, 22 August 2021,; see also our book by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019,; see also the following works by the same author: “A Really Good Quarrel”. US-China Alaska Meeting: The Inter-Imperialist Cold War Continues, 23 March 2021,; Servants of Two Masters. Stalinism and the New Cold War between Imperialist Great Powers in East and West, 10 July 2021,; for more works on this issue see these sub-pages: and

[2] We refer readers to a special page on our website where all RCIT documents on the Ukraine War and the current NATO-Russia conflict are compiled,

[3] See on this several statements and articles of the RCIT and its Nigerian section which are compiled on a special sub-page on our website,

[4] See on this a number of statements and articles of the RCIT which are compiled on a special sub-page on our website,

[5] See our latest statement: RCIT: US Sends Warships, Warplanes and 3,000 Marines to Persian Gulf. No to U.S. sanctions and threats against Iran! Defend Iran in any military confrontation with the U.S. or Israel! No political support for the Mullah regime! 8 August 2023,

[6] China-Philippines-US: The Conflict on the Ayungin Shoal and Inter-Imperialist Rivalry, 8 August 2023,

[7] See on this e.g. RCIT: Taiwan: Pelosi Visit Might Provoke War between the U.S. and China. Down with both imperialist Great Powers, for a policy of Revolutionary Defeatism! 1 August 2022,; Taiwan: Great Power Rivalry and National Question. On the conflict between U.S. and Chinese imperialism, its consequences for the crisis of the capitalist world order, on Taiwan’s national question and the program of revolutionary defeatism, 20 August 2022,

[8] See our latest statement: RCIT: War Danger on the Korean Peninsula. Defend North Korea against the imperialist powers U.S., Japan and South Korea! Down with the inter-imperialist rivalry between Western powers, China and Russia! No political support for the Stalinist-capitalist Kim Regime! 17 August 2023,

[9] For an overview about our history of support for anti-imperialist struggles in the past four decades (with links to documents, pictures and videos) see e.g. an essay by Michael Pröbsting: The Struggle of Revolutionaries in Imperialist Heartlands against Wars of their “Own” Ruling Class. Examples from the history of the RCIT and its predecessor organisation in the last four decades, 2 September 2022,

[10] For a detailed discussion of the Marxist categories of imperialist and semi-colonial states see e.g. the book by Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, RCIT Books, 2013,

[11] Abram Deborin: Lenin als revolutionärer Dialektiker (1925); in: Unter dem Banner des Marxismus, 1. Jahrgang (1925-26), S. 224 (our translation)

[12] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: The Science of Logic, (Translated by A.V. Miller; Foreword by J.N. Findlay), Allen & Unwin, London 1969, p. 389

[13] V.I. Lenin: Karl Marx. A Brief Biographical Sketch with an Exposition of Marxism (1914); in: LCW 21, p. 53

[14] V.I. Lenin: On the Question of Dialectics (1915); in: LCW 38, p.358

[15] See on this e.g. RCIT: Towards a Turning Point in the Ukraine War? The tasks of socialists in the light of possible lines of development of the war of national defence in combination with the inter-imperialist Great Power rivalry, 11 March 2023,; NATO Integration: An Imperialist Trap for the Ukrainian People! For a Popular War to defend the Ukraine against Putin’s invasion! No subordination of Ukraine to NATO and EU! Against Russian and against NATO imperialism! 19 June 2023,; Michael Pröbsting: Ukraine War: What Are the Results of the NATO Vilnius Summit? On the contradictory process of NATO-Ukraine rapprochement and, at the same time, diverging interests between Western powers and Kyiv, 13 July 2023,; by the same author: Is Ukraine About to Become NATO’s “Israel” in Eastern Europe? The “Wall Street Journal” reports about plans of Western governments to transform their relationship with the Ukraine at the NATO Summit in July, 29 May 2023,

[16] See e.g. the pamphlet by Michael Pröbsting: The Poverty of Neo-Imperialist Economism. Imperialism and the national question – a critique of Ted Grant and his school (CWI, ISA, IMT), January 2023,

[17] V. I. Lenin: The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up (1916); in: LCW Vol. 22, p. 357

[18] Manifesto of the Fourth International on Imperialist War: Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution. Adopted by the Emergency Conference of the Fourth International, May 19-26, 1940, in: Documents of the Fourth International. The Formative Years (1933-40), New York 1973, p. 327,

[19] Our most detailed works on the Marxist theory of imperialism are two books by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019,; The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, RCIT Books, 2013,

[20] The RCIT has published numerous documents about capitalism in Russia and its rise to an imperialist power. The most important ones are several pamphlets by Michael Pröbsting: The Peculiar Features of Russian Imperialism. A Study of Russia’s Monopolies, Capital Export and Super-Exploitation in the Light of Marxist Theory, 10 August 2021,; by the same author: Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism and the Rise of Russia as a Great Power. On the Understanding and Misunderstanding of Today’s Inter-Imperialist Rivalry in the Light of Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism. Another Reply to Our Critics Who Deny Russia’s Imperialist Character, August 2014,; Russia as a Great Imperialist Power. The formation of Russian Monopoly Capital and its Empire – A Reply to our Critics, 18 March 2014 (this pamphlet contains a document written in 2001 in which we established for the first time our characterisation of Russia as imperialist),; see also the following essays by the same author: ‘Empire-ism’ vs a Marxist analysis of imperialism: Continuing the debate with Argentinian economist Claudio Katz on Great Power rivalry, Russian imperialism and the Ukraine War, 3 March 2023,; Russia: An Imperialist Power or a “Non-Hegemonic Empire in Gestation”? A reply to the Argentinean economist Claudio Katz, in: New Politics, 11 August 2022, at; Russian Imperialism and Its Monopolies, in: New Politics Vol. XVIII No. 4, Whole Number 72, Winter 2022,; Once Again on Russian Imperialism (Reply to Critics). A rebuttal of a theory which claims that Russia is not an imperialist state but would be rather “comparable to Brazil and Iran”, 30 March 2022, See various other RCIT documents on this issue at a special sub-page on the RCIT’s website:

[21] For our analysis of capitalism in China and its transformation into a Great Power see e.g. the book by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019,; see also by the same author: “Chinese Imperialism and the World Economy”, an essay published in the second edition of The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism (edited by Immanuel Ness and Zak Cope), Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2020,; China: An Imperialist Power … Or Not Yet? A Theoretical Question with Very Practical Consequences! Continuing the Debate with Esteban Mercatante and the PTS/FT on China’s class character and consequences for the revolutionary strategy, 22 January 2022,; China‘s transformation into an imperialist power. A study of the economic, political and military aspects of China as a Great Power (2012), in: Revolutionary Communism No. 4,; How is it possible that some Marxists still Doubt that China has Become Capitalist? (A Critique of the PTS/FT), An analysis of the capitalist character of China’s State-Owned Enterprises and its political consequences, 18 September 2020,; Unable to See the Wood for the Trees (PTS/FT and China). Eclectic empiricism and the failure of the PTS/FT to recognize the imperialist character of China, 13 August 2020,; China’s Emergence as an Imperialist Power (Article in the US journal ‘New Politics’), in: “New Politics”, Summer 2014 (Vol:XV-1, Whole #: 57). See many more RCIT documents at a special sub-page on the RCIT’s website:

[22] For a political and economic analysis of the Ukraine see e.g. the pamphlet by Michael Pröbsting: Ukraine: A Capitalist Semi-Colony. On the exploitation and deformation of Ukraine’s economy by imperialist monopolies and oligarchs since capitalist restoration in 1991, January 2023,

[23] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Did the Chinese Communist Party always consider Taiwan as part of the Chinese nation?; published by LINKS (Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal), 6 October 2022,

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top