The Paradox of ‘Anti-War’ Capitalism: Peace Movements, Disarmament, and the War in Ukraine

The Paradox of ‘Anti-War’ Capitalism: Peace Movements, Disarmament, and the War in Ukraine

Janelle Velina
23 May 2023

Throughout the duration of the Russia-Ukraine War, the poverty of real Marxist analysis is very apparent in some very confused sections of the left[1] (as well as those who are purportedly left, but are clearly aligned with right-wing forces) who have committed themselves to either being apologists for Russia’s aggression and to championing multipolar capitalism, or cheerleading for the NATO-led alliance with the desire to draw out the conflict for as long as possible. They refuse to see the war as an inter-imperialist conflict, with U.S. imperialism competing with Russian imperialism over who gets to keep Ukraine as a colony, and who gets to have a puppet government that will be friendly to their respective bourgeois interests. But perhaps one of the most curious aspects of these Western “anti-war” movements is how quick they are to call for the United States, Canada, the UK, and other U.S.-aligned countries to disarm[2]; as well as being quick to claim that these particular countries are controlled by arms companies. However, none of those same condemnations and criticisms are applied to Russia and China, both of whom are the biggest purchasers of Ukrainian arms[3], and both of whose governments very generously give handouts to their own, respective, domestic arms manufacturing companies. China buys 36% of Ukrainian arms, followed by Russia which buys 20% of them. Not to mention, Collins Aerospace – a division of Raytheon – has employed over 950 Chinese employees in 15 key locations inside of China, with 9 joint venture companies focusing on design, development, and manufacturing.[4] Clearly, having a bloated military budget and giving handouts to arms investors is hardly unique to the United States.

It is not in the nature of capital to be ‘peaceful’[5] because of the inherent inequality in the capitalist system, which materially requires war. At its core, capitalism does have a rational economic interest in waging wars, even if that rationale is inhumane. And in order for a capitalist country to be successful under the capitalist system, it needs to engage in imperialism. Therefore, it is a failure to understand the nature of capital when promoting the illusion of peace and disarmament without first abolishing the system of capitalism and ending the division of humanity into classes and nations.[6]

Much like their police forces, capitalist nations need their militaries in order to enforce their class rule, which is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. And because capitalism has already spread to virtually every corner of the world, it is only logical that the most powerful capitalist countries will strengthen and expand their militaries in order to not only defend themselves from other capitalists, but to also safeguard their investors’ interests in their colonial holdings from rival imperial powers. Furthermore, due to the competitive nature of capitalism, countries will inevitably be pitted against one another[7] in the drive for profits, resources, and markets; competition over access to the world’s wealth places them in direct contradiction with one another. 

Hence why disarmament – but particularly nuclear disarmament – from any of the most powerful capitalist countries is impossible under capitalism; none of them are willing to place themselves in a vulnerable position when there is always a struggle between competing powers.[8] It is also advantageous for the imperialist blocs, whether it be NATO or BRICS, to have nuclear programs because they are an obvious choice for deterrents against invasion. Not only that, but even a socialist state such as the former Soviet Union (which was not profit-driven), from a purely tactical perspective, and for the same reason to maintain the Red Army, recognized the advantage of having nuclear deterrents since it existed in a world still dominated by capitalism and was surrounded by capitalist nations that sought to destroy it. 

The only reason why nuclear weapons are limited to being kept as deterrents or as ‘last resort’ solutions, as opposed to offensive weapons or even conventional defensive weapons, by capitalist states is because there is no profit to be made in the event of a nuclear war due to nature of the mutually assured destruction principle that underlies the use of such weapons. In other words, a country such as the United States does not necessarily want to rush into using its nuclear weapons against its rival competitor, Russia, which also has nuclear weapons, and vice-versa. Why? It is because the other side will retaliate, and neither side is prepared to face the utter devastation; more importantly, it will be extremely difficult for capitalists from both sides to make a profit in the aftermath. Unless the U.S. Empire has declined to the point of extreme desperation where it is willing to take down the Russian Empire (as well as the Chinese Empire) along with itself, the chances of a nuclear war happening in the foreseeable future at the time of this writing are highly unlikely. Thus, a prolonged conflict, such as the Russia-Ukraine War, is actually preferable to the capitalist class. 

The fact that Russia chose to invade Ukraine in February 2022 – an action which directly instigated the war – despite repeatedly rebuffing Western media warnings that they would, only bolsters the United States’ hegemonic position in the world. It also only emboldened the neo-Nazi movement in Ukraine even further which, while unintentional, should shatter the Russian propagandist myth that Russia is “de-Nazifying” Ukraine. Besides, the equally anti-communist government of Russia itself maintains very friendly relationships with Russian fascist ideologues and other far-right groups in other countries[9] – that, however, is another topic that is beyond the scope of this article. 

Indeed, the U.S. arms industry and the U.S. oil and gas industry, thus far, are the clear winners in the Russia-Ukraine conflict since they have seen an immense surge in profits. A December 18, 2022 New York Times report noted this surge as follows:

  • Lockheed Martin secured more than $950 million worth of missile military orders from the Pentagon to refill weapon stockpiles being used in Ukraine. While Raytheon received more than $2 billion in contracts to deliver missile systems to expand or replenish weapons sent to Ukraine.
  • Both Lockheed and Northrop Grumman saw their stock prices jump to more than 35 percent in 2022
  • U.S. weapons sales to foreign militaries totaled $81 billion in 2022. Many of these sales were used to boost military spending as a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • In early December of that same year, the Pentagon awarded about $6 billion to military contractors to resupply arms sent to Ukraine.[10]

None of this should come as a surprise because it is within the bounds of capitalist logic. But furthermore, the fact that Russia chose to invade Ukraine essentially helped to create this perfect opportunity for U.S. capitalists to help prolong this war to their benefit. With this rejuvenated boom in stock prices for U.S. industries, one can be certain that there is no way that organizers of “peace” rallies who have taken a liberal view of war[11] would be able to persuade the government of the United States and its Western allies to end this war, let alone to disarm or to stop sending arms to Ukraine. And these so-called “peace” rallies discredit themselves even further when they cheer on the Russian side of the war; because cheering on any belligerent side of this inter-imperialist conflict – whether it be NATO and its puppet government in Ukraine, or Russia – is tantamount to fuelling justification to keep prolonging the war. 

To add to this justification of prolonging the conflict, there are also far-right groups who are presenting themselves as “anti-imperialist” or “anti-war,” and who are advocates on behalf of the faction of the imperialist bourgeoisie that want to jettison liberal bourgeois democracy in favour of fascism.[12] Namely, this American motley crew consists of the Libertarian Party of the U.S., white supremacists, far-right militias, Lyndon LaRouche-affiliated organizations,[13][14] anti-Semitic and anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist social media personalities, and other right-wing extremists, who are loud vocal supporters of Vladimir Putin, industrial capitalists, petty-bourgeois business owners, and Trumpist elements within the Republican Party that see Russia as a beacon of traditionalist conservatism. As a matter of fact, they have several advocates with a ‘progressive’ facade among them who try to urge the Left to collaborate with the Far Right in an alliance against NATO arming Ukraine, often using emotionally manipulative rhetoric while doing so. The objective, of course, is to subvert the Left and redirect its energies towards a reactionary agenda and to, in effect, place capitalist Russia’s interests above its own. More broadly, it seems that the thinly veiled goal of these advocates with a progressive facade is to help smooth the path to power for what they perceive as a more Russia-friendly Right-wing, and whom they tail for that reason – a kind of reasoning that is tantamount to lobbying NATO to make it easier for the burgeoning Russian Empire to establish its own regional hegemony. The far-right motley crew’s purpose is to not only cause confusion and muddy the waters (so to speak) for the politically uninitiated or naive but, much like the misguided and more moderate faction of the “peace” movement,[15] to also make deluded calls for Western states to disarm, while very loudly defending the ‘right’ of Russia to remain armed and to continue carrying out its aggression in Ukraine and absolving it of any wrong-doing. Both factions do not see any connections between capitalist contradictions and the war in Ukraine, or any war waged under capitalism for that matter; both vehemently deny the imperialist character of Russia (and China). However, the Far Right “peace activists” go a step further by openly promoting Putin’s reactionary values, in addition to promoting their own national chauvinism and a more unrestrained, retrograde capitalism; as well as pushing the idea that a Trumpist-led Republican Party will somehow be “more anti-war” than the Democratic Party. Nevermind that both of the US anti-communist and anti-Soviet parties share virtually the same foreign policies – they just disagree on how best to carry out imperialism. Each represents different factions within the capitalist class whose interests often clash. But the Democrats are now more openly hostile towards capitalist Russia, even though the U.S. supported the same Russian bourgeois nationalists now in power in dismantling the Soviet Union. That is because the Democrats have naturally (and quite rationally) come to view Russia as a rival competitor to U.S. capital; especially since Putin, unlike Boris Yeltsin, is not as willing to be a junior partner to U.S. imperialism. 

However, the supposed “friendliness” towards Russia from the Republicans is unlikely to last very long given the inherently competitive nature of capitalism. With that in mind: as already explained why in this article, it is ridiculous to believe that the U.S. and its Western allies will ever give up their weapons and completely cut their military spending; but, should this improbable scenario happen, then the multipolar capitalist world that both sets of “anti-war” activists wished for will disintegrate fairly quickly and lead to a new era of unipolar capitalism, with either a fully-armed capitalist Russia or a fully-armed capitalist China emerging as the leader and dominating the world through military means. This is ironic and quite contrary to the shortsighted goals of multipolar advocates who push for the idea of multipolarity as an end goal – all the while failing to understand that “Monopoly produces competition, competition produces monopoly. Monopolists are made from competition; competitors become monopolists,”[16] as Marx said. Moreover, this would make for a very unstable transitory period in capitalism due to the very obvious power imbalance between a disarmed imperialist bloc and an armed imperialist bloc. So how could we be so sure that such a scenario, although highly improbable, would lead to world peace? 

Also, Russia’s (as well as China’s) opposition to U.S. imperialism is that of a vulgar kind; as is the unprincipled act of uncritically upholding such an opposition as “anti-imperialist,” and claiming that it absolutely must be supported just by virtue of it being opposed to the U.S., without taking into account the reasons for that opposition. Which brings to mind what Lenin wrote in Chapter 5 of A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism:

“But this Kievsky argument is wrong. Imperialism is as much our “mortal” enemy as is capitalism. That is so. No Marxist will forget, however, that capitalism is progressive compared with feudalism, and that imperialism is progressive compared with pre-monopoly capitalism. Hence, it is not every struggle against imperialism that we should support. We will not support a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism; we will not support an uprising of the reactionary classes against imperialism and capitalism.”[17]

Even from an advanced capitalist perspective, specifically the neoliberal capitalism represented by most of the wealthy and more powerful Western capitalist countries, it is not really desirable to regress to a time of more intense antagonisms between equally balanced capitalist states because that would be a step backwards in historical progress. That is essentially what multipolarity entails, and it is what led up to the First World War in the early 20th century. After years of consolidation, advances, and successes in [capitalist] development, why would any of these advanced capitalist states willingly acquiesce to demands, by an emerging rival imperialist bloc that is armed, to disarm? This would be akin to demanding that established businesses stop using electricity and go back to operating under candle light because “electricity gives them too much of an edge” over their new competitors. This is not to imply that the United States is a progressive state (because it isn’t); but it should be acknowledged that, comparatively speaking, Russia and China are less so since they represent a more Bonapartist, traditionalist capitalism – making the hypothetical scenario of a completely disarmed NATO bloc, but a fully armed Russia and China, even more nightmarish. Of course, it would make more sense to advocate for universal disarmament; but that is just as highly unlikely to happen as having only one imperialist bloc (the U.S.-led one) voluntarily disarm because, once again, friction and competition exist between capitalist states. 

Either way, the reality is that Putin wants access to the world markets on his and the Russian bourgeoisie’s terms. As does Xi Jinping on his and the Chinese bourgeoisie’s terms. Both are representatives and members of the bourgeoisie in their respective countries. Both also weaponize resources such as oil and energy in order to maintain their spheres of influence.[18][19][20] None of it has anything to do with opposing imperialism in any meaningful way. In this regard, other than the current power imbalance, they are no different from their U.S. counterpart(s).[21] 

Going back to the example of China being the top purchaser of Ukrainian-made weapons: even diplomatic tactics and “peace talks” under capitalism are far from having any truly altruistic motives. On February 3, 2023, China had published a political settlement document regarding the conflict in Ukraine, calling for a “peaceful settlement of the crisis”.[22]  Although China has not publicly announced support for any side in the Russia-Ukraine War – nor is it sending weapons to Ukraine or cheering on Ukraine – it not only continues to purchase arms from Ukraine, but it has gone to the Hague in an attempt to force Ukraine to sell its industries after a deal was frozen by a Ukrainian court in 2017 as a result of Ukraine nationalizing its industries.[23] The deal in question involved the Chinese aviation company Skyrizon having bought 41% of Ukraine’s aircraft engine manufacturer, Motor Sich, and seeking to have a more controlling stake in it. And so, contrary to the wishful thinking of those who think that present-day China is socialist,[24][25][26] China’s motivations for brokering a “peace deal” are no less questionable than those of the United States if it were to propose its own terms. But more importantly, “peaceful solutions” or “peaceful coexistence” between rival capitalist states, such as Russia and the United States, are still underscored by the profit motive and are a farce at best. This is not to necessarily say that China being the top purchaser of Ukrainian arms is the sole reason for the aforementioned “peace deal” proposal, but that it demonstrates that China does indeed have a profit-making interest in tapping into markets in Ukraine, and thus a stake in forwarding such a proposal. Yes, one could argue that diplomatic “peace agreements” are preferable to all-out war since it at least means that less people will die. Calling for ceasefires under capitalism is not necessarily something that should be completely eschewed – so long as communists explicitly acknowledge that all involved imperialist belligerents (and not just one) that instigated acts of aggression, in an inter-imperialist conflict, need to suspend hostilities. But it should be kept in mind that a “period of peace” under capitalism is temporary at best, and that hostilities are very likely to continue at a later date given the inherent competitive nature of capitalism.[27] As Stephen Gowans put it, “That’s how competitions end. In the victory of one side, in both sides simultaneously withdrawing, or in the mutual ruin of both. They don’t end in a just peace.”[28] Marxists should remember that imperialism does not always have to involve, nor is it limited to, dropping bombs or physical conflict; because its economic essence should also not be forgotten, nor should the capitalist compulsion to dominate as many parts of the planet as possible. The fact that the United States is currently the strongest imperial power also does not negate the fact that Russia and China do have imperial ambitions. 

When the dictatorship of the proletariat is established globally, then we can talk about disarmament. But in the meantime, the bourgeoisie will not just simply lay down their arms and surrender peacefully just because we petition them to. Nor will cheering on one capitalist bloc over the other solve the problem; as Marxists, we must reject the idea that multipolarity is the answer or the better alternative to unipolarity since we are supposed to be calling for a non-polar communist world. To be sure, a unipolar capitalist world with the United States as the dominant world power is not the kind of world that communists desire to keep and so there is no doubt that it must be opposed. However, we also have no business in helping emerging imperial powers to agitate against the U.S. Empire for a “fair share” in dividing the world’s spoils amongst themselves. Cheering on the rise of Russia and China to global dominance will certainly not help poor, oppressed nations to free themselves from the yoke of imperialism since it just means that the U.S. Empire will be forced to pass on its colonial assets into the hands of the Russian and Chinese empires, who then have to divide those spoils among themselves – which is far from resulting in the independence of poor Third World countries. Having socialist revolutions around the world and abolishing capitalism is the only step towards eliminating the drive for war. When the world becomes communist, it will mean no more divisions of humanity along class and national lines; that is when wars finally end.


  1. Gowans, Stephen (2022, April 13). The Mental Illness of Anachronistic Radical Socialism. What’s Left. Retrieved from:
  2. Lorincz, Tamara (2023, January 17). Liberal government will regret purchase of unreliable and unaffordable F-35 fighter jets. Toronto Star. Retrieved from:
  3. Johnson, Reuben F. (9 July, 2020). Why Ukraine is a secret weapon for China’s airpower. Middle East Institute. Retrieved from:
  4. Collins Aerospace China (n.d.). China. Collins Aerospace. Retrieved from:
  5. Gowans, Stephen (2022, December 7). A Brief Critique of Anti-War Activism. What’s Left. Retrieved from:
  6. Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich (2005). War and Revolution. Lenin Collected Works (Vol. 24). [Marxists Internet Archive version]. (Original work published in 1929, April 29). Retrieved from:
  7. Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich (2018). Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. (Original work published in 1916). London: Aziloth Books.
  8. Lenin (2018), 52-58.
  9. Communist Party of Greece (2023, February 19). Blood and tears for the peoples – profits for capital. Communist Party of Greece. Retrieved from:
  10. Lipton, E., Crowley, M., & Ismay, J. (2022, December 18). Military Spending Surges, Creating New Boom for Arms Makers. The New York Times. Retrieved from:
  11. Gowans, 2022, December 7.
  12. Crosse, J., & Kishore, J. (2023, February 20). The “Rage Against the War Machine” rally: A reactionary political freak show. World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved from:
  13. Woods, Andrew (2019, March 20). The American Roots of Right-Wing Conspiracy. Commune. Retrieved from:
  14. Craggs, Tommy (2023, February 13). Lyndon LaRouche Was the Godfather of Political Paranoia. His Cult Is Still Alive and Unwell. The New Republic. Retrieved from:
  15. Godels, Greg (2022, June 5). The Peace Question and Imperialism. ZZ’s blog. Godels explains: “Against them [those who uncritically support Ukraine] are the more measured comrades who, remembering the Cold War standoff between the US and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies, conflate today’s Russia with the Soviet Union. They recognize how the Soviet Union constituted a pole of resistance that countered and sometimes reversed the Cold War imperialist alliance’s designs on the world. US imperialism, the dominant imperialist power at the time, was effectively checked by the Soviet Union from 1945 until the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. These anti-imperialists see Russia, in its war on Ukraine, as a similar emerging pole against US imperialism and see Russia’s invasion as an expression of a break-up of the absolute military and economic US dominance of the world established after the departure of the Soviet Union. For them, a multipolar world is in birth.

    There are shards of truth in this view, but Russia is not the Soviet Union. It does not share its ideology; rather, its motives replace Soviet internationalism with an aspiring great power nationalism. While it exploits cracks in US global hegemony, it does not offer an alternative vision or unconditional assistance to the victims of capitalism and imperialism. In that regard, Russia is no Cuba, either.” Retrieved from:
  16. Marx, Karl (1999). The Metaphysics of Political Economy – Competition and Monopoly. The Poverty of Philosophy. [Marxists Internet Archive version]. (Original work published in 1847). Retrieved from:
  17. Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich (2002). Monism and Dualism. A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism. [Marxists Internet Archive version]. (Original work published in 1916). Retrieved from:
  18. Taylor, Mildred Europa (2018, December 13). Somalia gives up its fishing rights to China. Face 2 Face Africa. Retrieved from:
  19. Cohen, L., & Khasawneh, R (2020, August 11). Reuters. Retrieved from:
  20. Kramer, Andrew E. (2009, October 13). Eastern Europe eyes new Russian dominance. The New York Times. Retrieved from:
  21. Unruhe, Jason (2023, February 27). Multipolar Support for Russia Violates Leninism. [Video]. YouTube.
  22. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China (2023, February 24). China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. Retrieved from:
  23. Zhou, Laura (2021, December 1). China’s Skyrizon takes Ukraine to The Hague over failed Motor Sich bid. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from:
  24. Benjamin, M., Winograd, M., & Yu, W. (2023, March 7)  Why did Biden snub China’s Ukraine peace plan? Friends of Socialist China. Retrieved from:
  25. Friends of Socialist China (n.d.). About Friends of Socialist China. Friends of Socialist China. Retrieved from:
  26. Gowans, Stephen (2022, May 12). Why China Is Not Socialist. What’s Left. Retrieved from:
  27. Marx, 1999.
  28. Gowans, Stephen (2022, December 5). Would a Plan for a Just Peace in Ukraine Make Any Difference? What’s Left. Retrieved from:

Featured image: Gillray, James. The Plumb-pudding in danger, or, State Epicures taking un Petit Souper, 1805.

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