Why Campism Divides Workers and is Non-Revolutionary.

Neither Washington Nor Moscow, but International Solidarity !!

Apologists for Putin’s war on Ukraine cite Russia’s “legitimate security interests”. In this scenario, it is the U.S. through NATO expansion that is soley to blame for Russia attacking Ukraine. This position is known as campism since it supports one camp in the inter-imperialist rivalry. This position not only disrupts working class solidarity, it is also fundamentally reformist and therefore a rejection of revolutionary Marxism.

Of course each state feels that it has “ legitimate security interests” which usually means trying to impose its will on other states. It is true that each imperialist power is compelled to try to assert its dominance. The law of the jungle produces aggressive animals. From within the logic of imperialist relations, it is perfectly rational for imperialists to act as they do. Within the current system, Russia “needs” the buffer of Ukraine. In the early years of U.S. imperialism , it “needed” the Monroe Doctrine to protect its interests against European powers.

When the logic of the system compels each state to act in an inhumane , dangerous and destructive manner, it is time to reject not just the acts of states, but the system that compels them to militarism.This is why Marxists reject the system of imperialist competition which flows from capitalism.

Anti-war activists point out U.S. hypocrisy by saying that the U.S. would not allow Mexico or Canada to join an anti-U.S. alliance . This is true. However, the implication is often that the U.S. would be correct in opposing these actions by Mexico or Canada, just at Putin is correct in refusing the expansion of NATO. Marxists denounce U.S. hypocrisy but flip the analogy the other way: We reject the right of the U.S. or Russia to control countries on their borders — or anyplace else. The U.S. is hypocritical , but so is Russia.

Capitalism produces the most recent form of imperialism. As Lenin said, Imperialism is the latest stage of capitalism, not a freely chosen policy by capitalist states. The two are inherently connected. There is also a direct analogy between imperialism and capitalist economic competition. Each corporation has to compete in the market to survive. To do so it has to exploit workers, dump pollution into the air and water, engage in planned obsolescence etc. If it did not engage in these activities it would go out of business.

However, no socialists and even few progressives excuse corporate actions for this reason. We should take that same attitude to imperialist states. A smaller even regional imperialist is still an imperialist. As Lenin said in Socialism and War , when there is a fight between a slaveholder with 100 slaves and a slaveholder with 200 slaves we don’t side with either slaveholder. We oppose both slaveholders since we oppose slavery. Revolutionary Marxists do not accept imperialist excuses for their actions. To accept the legitimacy of any imperialist actions is to accept the legitimacy of the imperialist system. This is why Revolutionary Marxists who oppose capitalism and imperialism need to resolutely reject the Putinist rationale and the NATO/U.S. excuses.

The capitalist imperialist system is in the interest of the ruling classes, not the working class and poor. Our role is to oppose those ruling class interests , especially when pursuit of those interests literally threatens human survival. International solidarity requires that we act in support of our working class sisters and brothers abroad when they oppose their ruling classes. Supporting a supposedly less dangerous imperialist in its competition with other imperialists means siding with their rulers against workers and the poor. It is a betrayal of the need for international working class solidarity. It replaces “ workers of the world unite”, with “ workers of the world kill each other”.

Besides disrupting international solidarity , campism is fundamentally reformist rather than revolutionary. Those who apologise for Putin or the U.S. are lining up with one imperialist/capitalist competitor rather than opposing the system of capitalism and imperialism. They accept the current system by advocating for one competitor within it rather than standing in revolutionary opposition to the system as a whole.

We oppose lesser-evilism and so oppose voting for capitalist candidates . We should also oppose lesser-evilism in international relations. Winning the reduction of militarism and war is one of the most important of these reforms we can win short of revolution.

While fighting for reforms Marxist revolutionaries always need to oppose the capitalist imperialist system as a whole. We denounce the actions of warrior states and corporations as an expression of our opposition to the system , not on a purely moral basis. ( i.e. that some are more ethical than others). If we focus on only the actions of one imperialist, we are not attacking the whole imperialist system. Instead we would be saying that some imperialist action is OK compared to others and therefore imperialism as a whole is not the problem.

In summary , the campist position ( supporting one imperialist camp against another) violates international working class solidarity by dividing workers’ loyalties between camps. It is also fundamentally reformist in implying that it is the actions of one particular imperialist that is the problem, rather than the system as a whole.

In building anti-war movements, Marxists try to win people to as much of this attitude to imperialism as possible. We unite with anyone opposed to war. We do not demand that they already be anti-imperialist before working together with them. However, within that movement, we try to build a large anti-imperialist wing. The stronger that wing is, the less the anti-war movement will accept excuses from the rulers or fall for the false promises of diplomacy and compromise. Anti-imperialism gives a stronger basis to anti-war activism.


Steve Leigh is an active member of Seattle Revolutionary Socialists and the Revolutionary Socialist Organizing Project. 50 years as a socialist organizer

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A Marxist View of Current Events

Steve Leigh is an active member of Seattle Revolutionary Socialists and the Revolutionary Socialist Organizing Project. 50 years as a socialist organizer