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Beyond a US-China-Russia Conflict

As the world continues to shift towards a new global order, the competition between the United States, China, and Russia has become increasingly apparent. While some may argue that conflict between these powers is inevitable, others question the effectiveness of Marxist alternatives in a world that is dominated by state capitalism and imperial tendencies. In this article, we will explore the complexities of the US-China-Russia relationship and examine the limitations of Marxist ideology in addressing the challenges of our current political and economic landscape.

The United States-China-Russia “geopolitical competition” reflects the limits of Marxist alternatives in a world dominated by state capitalism and imperial tendencies. While China is a state capitalist power and Russia has imperial tendencies, the US represents the hegemonic power of Western capitalism. We must critically examine the limitations of these alternatives and advocate for a truly transformative socialist alternative that breaks free from this cycle of violence and oppression.

China and Russia: State Capitalism and Imperial Tendencies

Qin Gang’s press conference held today (Tuesday 7 March) reflects the inevitability of conflict between the US and China, but it also highlights the limitations of Marxist alternatives in a world dominated by state capitalism and imperial tendencies. While China presents itself as a counter-hegemonic force challenging the dominance of Western capitalism, it is in fact a state capitalist power that prioritises economic growth over workers’ rights and social justice. Russia, on the other hand, has a history of looking towards its past, particularly the Soviet Union, which looked to dominate regional countries and influence their policies through its sphere of influence. This is evidenced today by its interventions in Ukraine, Central African Republic (through the Wagner group), South Africa and Syria, and its pursuit of regional dominance.

US Hegemony and NATO

As the hegemonic power of Western capitalism, the US represents the dominant force in the conflict with China and Russia. Its primary goal is to maintain its global power and prevent any emerging state from challenging its position. The US-led containment and suppression of China can be seen as a manifestation of capitalism’s inherent need for expansion and domination, as it seeks to prevent the emergence of a rival power that could threaten its interests. Criticisms of US imperialism have correctly centred on NATO, which is viewed as the foot soldier of Western imperialism, operating in support of US ambitions and advancing the interests of capitalist powers at the expense of working-class people around the world. While we must continue to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, we must also be mindful of the role that powerful actors, such as the US and NATO, may be playing behind the scenes, exacerbating the conflict and perpetuating global instability.

The Limitations of China and Russia

We must also critically examine the limitations of the alternatives presented by China and Russia. While they may challenge the dominance of Western capitalism, they do not offer a truly transformative socialist alternative that breaks free from the logic of capital accumulation[1] and domination. China’s state capitalist model prioritises economic growth over social justice, and its authoritarian political system restricts workers’ rights and political freedoms. Russia over the last decade under Putin’s leadership has focused on asserting its dominance within its region and expanding its sphere of influence, rather than promoting international solidarity and socialist values.

Campists and Media Bias

Despite the criticisms of state capitalism and imperialism, there are still those within the Left who support China and Russia as a counterbalance to Western imperialism, viewing them as a challenge to the global capitalist order. They argue that, despite their flaws, these countries are able to resist Western imperialism and promote international solidarity, pointing to their successes in lifting millions of people out of poverty and providing an alternative to the neoliberal economic model. However, surprisingly, Campists choose to overlook acts of aggression committed by Russia in Africa and Ukraine, as well as the ongoing genocide of the Uyghur people by China, when discussing the political and economic systems of these countries. This uncritical acceptance of alternative media narratives, often found in sources such as Grayzone, can result in a distorted understanding of international events and a failure to adequately analyse the role of state capitalism and imperialism in perpetuating global inequality and exploitation. As Marxists, it is imperative that we challenge all forms of media bias and propaganda, prioritise critical thinking and evidence-based analysis, and work towards international solidarity in our struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

The Reality of the Worker

While it is true that both Russia and China have seen significant economic growth in recent decades, this growth has not necessarily translated into improved living standards for most of the population. In fact, it is a commonly held view among Marxist and leftist scholars that the economic growth in both countries has been highly uneven, benefiting only a small elite (often with close ties to the state or the ruling Communist Party in China) at the expense of the working class and marginalised communities. Most workers in China and Russia are still exploited by capitalist bosses, often with little to no legal protections, while the wealth gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. Furthermore, many workers in China and Russia are subjected to harsh working conditions and limited access to healthcare and education. As such, claims that China and Russia have lifted millions out of poverty must be critically examined within the context of the continued exploitation of workers and the deepening inequality in both countries.

China’s worker exploitation has been a key factor in the growth of the country’s manufacturing sector, which has in turn benefited many US companies. The low wages, poor working conditions, and lack of labour protections in China have made it a highly attractive location for US companies seeking to maximise profits. Many US companies have moved their production to China, where they can take advantage of the cheap labour and lax regulatory environment. This has resulted in the exploitation of Chinese workers, who often work long hours for little pay and face unsafe working conditions. Moreover, the profits generated by US companies in China often flow back to the US, benefiting the shareholders and executives of these companies while leaving Chinese workers with few benefits or protections.

China’s status as the “factory of the world” is now at risk due to ongoing supply issues caused by the COVID pandemic, cost increases and geopolitical instability. For instance, Foxconn, a major supplier of iPhone components, recently announced plans to invest $700m in a new plant in India’s Karnataka state, as US companies continue to seek alternatives to Chinese manufacturing due to the rising geopolitical tensions. Free trade agreements, global supply chain crises, and tensions between the US and China have created a “lifetime opportunity” for other emerging manufacturing hubs, such as India and Mexico. However, it should be noted that while this presents significant opportunities for businesses and investors, it does not necessarily translate to better working conditions for the labour force. As capitalists continue to seek the cheapest sources of labour, workers in emerging manufacturing hubs such as Mexico, India, Malaysia, and others are often left to contend with low wages, poor working conditions, and limited job security.

Risk and Solidarity

Marxists should condemn all three powers involved in this “geopolitical competition,” as they have all engaged in war, economic sanctions, and human rights violations, and have nothing positive to offer. The US has a long history of military interventionism, supporting dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, and violating the rights of marginalised communities within its own borders. China’s authoritarian political system has been criticised for its suppression of political dissent, persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, and violations of workers’ rights. Russia has been accused of various human rights violations (including many attacks on the LGBTQ+ community), including its persecution of political dissidents, suppression of media freedom, and its brutal invasion of Ukraine alongside interventions in conflicts in Africa and Syria, which has led to significant civilian casualties and reports of war crimes.

The power struggle between the US, China, and Russia reflects the limitations of capitalist alternatives, and the pursuit of profit and growth under capitalism is inherently destructive to the environment and unsustainable in the long term. The fact that these three powers prioritise their own interests over the needs of the people and the planet should be a concern for us all. Conflict or the risk of conflict between these powers benefits nobody and perpetuates inequality, exploitation, and human suffering.

Therefore, it is essential that we reject the false dichotomy between supporting one power over the other and instead advocate for a socialist alternative that challenges all forms of imperialism and promotes genuine international solidarity. A socialist global fight back is needed to overcome the limitations of capitalist alternatives and build a better world, based on the principles of social justice and equality. Only by working together to fight against the capitalist exploitation and imperialism that drive these dangerous geopolitical shifts can we solve the climate emergency and build a society that truly serves the needs of all the people. We need a global movement that prioritises cooperation, solidarity, and mutual respect, and that fights for a world where justice, equality, and human rights are at the forefront.

[1] Rosa Luxemburg argued in her polemic that capitalism is dependent on constant expansion into non-capitalist areas to access new supply sources, markets for surplus value, and reservoirs of labour. According to Luxemburg, the accumulation of capital is limited by the availability of markets, and therefore the continued expansion into non-capitalist areas is necessary to maintain the system. She argued that this expansion inevitably leads to imperialism, as capitalist powers seek to dominate non-capitalist areas and extract resources and labour for their own benefit.

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