cold war to forceps

Image: Андрей


The tacit agreement between Russia and the US and the misery of a certain “anti-imperialism”

There was a time after the Second World War when some sectors of the left criticized, with reason, the fact that behind the mutual vows of hatred and destruction between the USA and the USSR, there was a kind of tacit agreement between the two powers in their pretensions. expansionists. In many cases, the catastrophe horizon projected onto the enemy was extremely functional for both to gain or impose external support and, not least, to create a climate of “national unity” against the mortal external enemy in order to elide internal contradictions. from both countries.

This does not mean, of course, that the conflict was not real – it could lead the world to nuclear destruction as it is now – nor that the USA and the USSR were the same thing and nor that they did not impose limits on each other. But, even for that reason, the uncontested military leadership of everyone in the world in a situation of bipolarity was a very precious asset so that, before the rest of the world, its economic, political, military and even ideological strength could be greatly increased.

What was said above serves as a motto (and just a motto, because today the world is obviously different in several dimensions) to think about the events of these last few days. It is true that such events consolidated a new “Cold War” based on the actions of the same protagonists of the old one. On the one hand, what brought us here has to do with a series of events and conjunctures that have been unfolding for a long time and that are not controllable (at least not completely) by the actors in conflict at the beginning of 2022: a fall in prestige and the economic strength of the US, China's economic rise, Russia's geopolitical and military reassertion, and in the background of all this, an also long-standing permanent crisis of capital whose consequences are far from being just “economic”.

After the 1990s, in which the United States led the World-System unscathed (attracting or at least neutralizing Russia and stimulating China's capitalist opening), a situation of relative uncertainty was created in geopolitics and in the context of alliances in the World-System. Capitalist world. If until recently the old order of absolute US leadership was already dead, but a new order was not emerging, it seems that now something new will have to take hold. Of course, the allegiances and affinities were already established before: USA-Europe on one side and China-Russia on the other.

However, now a decision is being made. One can no longer hesitate or seek compromise solutions. Thus, the alignments will now assume the typical logic of friend x enemy of Carl Schmitt, crystallizing without ambiguities. And if, as we said, such a decision was already an open possibility based on conjunctural and structural dynamics, the USA and Russia deliberately played a game of stage in recent months that allowed both, with forceps, to consolidate the new “Cold War” under their role, at least on the military level.

And where does the role of a certain “anti-imperialism” of parts of the left come in, ranging from those who refuse to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine in deeds to those who make an open apology for Putin? First of all, many of those who swear with their feet together to always be on the side of the people and the oppressed corroborate the fact that a country of 45 million inhabitants, absolutely against the will of its people, starts to live an indefinite future of violence and direct military occupation from Moscow (or from a local puppet military government, which would be the same thing).

The criticism of NATO expansionism in Eastern Europe, used as a goat in the room for the sweetness bestowed on Putin, is a typical example of how something true in itself can serve as a cover for an absolutely false position. After all, in real life and not in the realm of ethereal “anti-imperialist” speeches, what is claimed is that the Ukrainian people, if they do not want to suffer from the military imperatives of Realpolitik of Putin, must have the conditions to revert, in the very short term, the military imperatives of Realpolitik from the West. As if this were within the reach of Ukrainians, or even as if Russian aggression did not make Ukrainians even more dependent on the West, even after the betrayal of NATO. The choice then becomes: “You Ukrainians, in order not to be bombed, killed and occupied, redesign the world geopolitics of the last decades”. It's not serious...

Furthermore, the tacit game between Putin and the US, contrary to the triumphalism of many, in no way weakened US imperialism. For it is one thing to observe the long-term process of relative weakening of the US. Another thing is the verification of the immediate balance of the current days. Barring further spectacular changes in the short term, the fact is that the US managed to weld an even more pronounced and uncontested military leadership in Europe (independently and even against its will). Otherwise, let's see. Since November, Putin has threatened to invade Ukraine and what is Biden's response? Tough speeches and threats of sanctions, while giving Putin carte blanche by reiterating that he will not intervene. Here it is true that NATO betrays Ukraine and this is nothing short of demoralizing.

But with the invasion a fait accompli, NATO under American leadership soon rushed to funnel more troops and resources into Eastern Europe. More importantly, the open confrontation with Russia allows the USA to cut the pretensions of military independence from France, as well as to undermine the important German economic projection over Russia (the case Nord Stream 2 is emblematic). It matters little whether or not this process was subjectively prearranged between the US and Russia. Objectively, in any case, there is a tacit agreement here in which Putin wins Ukraine as a trophy and Biden forces a realignment of Europe around his leadership of NATO.

Not to mention the fact that, with such a situation, Biden has reconnected with the Republican establishment that now wants to separate itself from Putin's admirer, Donald Trump. Here, therefore, is another aporia of the “anti-imperialists”: the argument that everything that weakens the US must be supported, which is already quite clumsy, encourages a position that in practice reaffirms a bipolarity that offers new and precious cards in the hole for… American imperialism.

What was said above, on the other hand, does not mean that the USA and/or Russia would be giving a “masterstroke”. The contradictions are enormous and the margins for maneuver are very narrow, unlike the economic expansion that helped to strengthen the two antagonistic post-war blocs. The crisis of capital is also the crisis of the World-System. As the horizon of salary societies, continuous economic growth, progress in life, etc., fades away, the politicization of social resentment grows, giving rise to nationalist, xenophobic and extreme right-wing identitarianisms.

Such a phenomenon, which these days seems to be limited to Ukraine for some, can be seen everywhere, from West to East. Such nationalisms, far from being based on the old utopia of national development and beneficial integration of all in the economic circuits, are directly based on a situation in which it is clear that there is no longer room for everyone and precisely for this reason they give vent to self-deprecating tendencies and explosive.

Furthermore – and here is another crucial difference from the former Cold War – the powers of the two aforementioned blocs today have a degree of mutual interdependence and economic interrelationship in this XNUMXst century that simply did not exist in the last century. This problem – which reflects the fact that capital has already reached a degree of universalization of the productive forces (here including labor), trade and finance – cannot be resolved in any way by a new bipolarity. For this simply clashes with the need for the powers to succeed within the framework of a capitalism that does not support any successful economic autarchy in opposing blocs. Even for the respective military powers to stand out, it is first necessary to have a radius of global economic action.

Sanctions between Russia and Europe, for example, risk not only greatly aggravating the latter's energy crisis, but also taking away a source of currency and precious income for Russia. The latter is likely to become even more dependent on China, but it is illusory that the loss in the West will be fully repaired by deepening relations with China. Also because China, in an eventual scenario in which economic sanctions also encompass it, cannot abdicate from Western markets either, especially at a time when the country aims to sophisticate the technological content of its exports.

China's economic growth has never been independent of the motorization of consumer, credit and fictitious capital bubbles coming from the West. Now, in addition to the effects of its own fictitious real estate bubble, an eventual drastic reduction of markets in the West would be the lime shovel in the so-called “Chinese miracle”. Just like, for example, on the other side, freezing China's financial transactions with its trillions of assets and government bonds in dollars is the fastest and surest way to dethrone the US as patron of the global reserve currency. Furthermore, a blockade or intensified protectionism by the West for Chinese imports will fuel inflation and the loss of purchasing power in their societies.

The contradiction is objective here: economic “deglobalization” may perhaps appear in the short term as a weapon of defense and economic combat, but, deep down, “deglobalization” is not an effectively viable option for anyone: the imperatives of capital as “ automatic subject” as Marx said, cannot conform to the boundaries of the new bipolarity, especially when this same capital has an already very weak accumulation dynamics. It is, therefore, a “Cold War” also to forceps in this other sense: the geopolitics that now intends to break up the world turns out to be an attempt to force an economic dead end.

For all these reasons, the scenario that appears can only increase tensions in the face of the Sisyphus task of managing the unfolding internal and external crises. Everything points not to containment, but to the acceleration of the processes of social and political disintegration already under way, which certainly tends to strengthen the devices of repression, violence, control and politicization of hate from both blocs in conflict. The idea that one should support one of the sides in the name of a “progressive” position is, at best, an illusion, and at worst, it is condoning the current impasse.

An impasse that appears directly in the ideological and metaphysical contortionism with which the “anti-imperialist” left seeks to paint the China-Russia bloc with rosy colors. And, in the case of Ukraine, the denunciation of a real fact – the action of armed neo-Nazi groups – turns into an absurd accusation against the entire country and its population, which has every reason to fight against Putin's aggression and is already doing so. that. Are the Ukrainian people wrong to fight? Or is Putin still right when in the name of “national unity” he arrests thousands of Russians who protest the war? Were they all national traitors in the service of NATO? When Russia's imperial destruction of Ukraine is hailed as a victory “against Nazism”, Ukraine is projected into the very embodiment of absolute evil. With that, consciously or not, the “anti-imperialist” left tries to project onto its enemies all the ghosts that are also its own.

For example, in the pro-Russian apologetic narrative, everything passes as if the “denazification” proposed by Putin could bring about something different than the barbarization/fascistization/nazification of Ukraine itself by other means. How can we not see that such a Putin strategy can only lead to the expansion of a mortal and endless battle, the result of which can only be the strengthening of hatred and the reinforcement of extreme right movements and militias of both Ukrainians and Russians?[I]

Similarly, the attempt to paint Ukraine as a monolithic far-right bloc can barely disguise the minimization or concealment of the fact that Putin is a great ally of the European extreme right – and is still admired by Bolsonaro and Trump – and that his government is eminently reactionary. And, even more fundamentally, when the denunciation of the crimes, hypocrisies and human tragedies for which the West is responsible serves as an alibi or mitigating factor for the complete breakdown of Ukraine, what is amnestied here is precisely the ongoing process of global barbarization. “The US devastated Iraq and so now nobody should be too indignant if Russia devastated Ukraine”: this became the “argument” of this strange “anti-imperialism”.

Thus, what escapes criticism is precisely the fact that what is in sight is the emergence of new Iraqs/Ukraines to be inflated by the very bipolarity within which it is supposed to be on the “right” side, supporting the “anti” forces. -imperialists”. This, when the discussion does not lead to the complete falsification of the real character of Putin's expansionism, which already takes place far beyond the “living space” of the Russian Empire, which Putin supposedly would have “historical rights” to defend. What does pro-Russian “anti-imperialism” have to say about Putin's military support of Assad in Syria that allowed the latter to cause the extermination of hundreds of thousands of civilians, many tortured to death in prisons? That when it was not Russian aviation itself that directly bombed hospitals and residential buildings. [ii]

The misery of “anti-imperialism”, its attempts to sustain the unsustainable, reveals trends that say a lot about parts of the left in Brazil and abroad today. The crossed, doctrinaire and anachronistic character of the analyzes is adorned with an alleged “principalist” Marxism that betrays precisely Marx’s greatest legacy, which was to analyze reality in an immanent way and not trying to frame it with external concepts and foreign to the objects under debate. At the limit, it is possible for some in the name of “orthodox Leninism” to make an apology for Putin even when he explicitly says that he will erase Lenin’s “error” of having spoken out for the self-determination of the peoples of the former Russian Empire…

This state of affairs suggests one more last sense of a “Cold War” by forceps, now from the point of view of a certain left. Ideologically placing itself in one of the disputed fields within the bipolarization that is coming to light, accepting for itself the framework imposed by the current world leaders with nuclear power as the ultimate horizon of action, this left now believes it can simulate some kind of power, some kind of of artificial vigor. A simulated, forced and substitutive power since it is the reverse of the real impotence of producing ideas and practices that have an effectively transforming and emancipatory north.

Lest we be unfair, it must be said that this impotence actually encompasses the entire left today. Thus, it is a collective task and not a simple one. However, outsourcing this task to the Putins and Xi Jinping of the world is already a testament to its abandonment.

*Daniel Feldmann and pProfessor at the Department of Economics at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP). He is an author, with Fabio Luis Barbosa dos Santos de The doctor and the monster: a reading of Latin American progressivism and its opposites (Elephant Publisher).



Al-Shami, Leila. The 'anti-imperialism' of idiots. 14/4/2018. Available in

Bilous, Taras. "A Letter from Kiev to the Western Left". 26/2/2022. Available in

Coinash, Halya. “East Ukraine crisis and the 'fascist' matrix. Is the Russian leadership fomenting ideological links with some far-right European parties?”. In: Al Jazeera. 17/4/2014. Available in

Walker, Shaun. 'We can find you anywhere': the Chechen death squads stalking Europe. In: The Guardian, 21/9/2019. Available in



[I] As shown by the good text by Taras Bilous, who, due to his militancy and his family ties, knows both sides of the conflict in Donbass well, the propaganda that it is simply a matter of a struggle between “Ukrainian Nazis” versus a “popular resistance Russian” is a complete distortion. Not only does this ignore the fact that there are fascist elements and attacks on civilians on both sides, but it also hides the role that the Russian Army has played since 2014 in the conflict. On this, see also Coinash (2014). Furthermore, who in their right mind would think that Russia's eventual future domination of Ukraine will be based on “popular resistance”? It will certainly be a matter of repression coming from both the Russian army and the different militias controlled by Putin. Proof of this is already the landing of troops in Ukraine sent at Putin's request by the Chechen leader Kadyrov, known for the practice of torture and the formation of death squads in his republic. Here is a sign of what Ukrainians can expect as "popular resistance". See about it Walker (2019).

[ii] For a scathing critique of the positions of much of the western left in the face of the Syrian tragedy, see the text by Leila Al Shami (2018).

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