War is an ancient social phenomenon. The tribal wars that preceded the state wars of class societies prove this. With the emergence of class societies, war gained new characteristics beyond defense or the struggle for natural resources. And in capitalist society, it becomes even more complex. The current conflict between Russia and Ukraine shows the complexity of this phenomenon in its modern form. One of the novelties of modern warfare is the need for justification and convincing the population, which generates the proliferation of discourses and, complementarily, the need to delegitimize the actions of war of the adversaries. The Russian action is accused of being “gratuitous,” “irrational,” etc. But what is really behind Russia’s attack on Ukraine?
The discourse that goes beyond clichés and manichaeism points to the geopolitical issue and the strategic place that Ukraine has for the Russians, as well as NATO’s advance in the region. NATO has been gradually advancing in the region and seeks Ukraine’s membership, the last frontier to reach Russia. The latter, in turn, aims to maintain its security by preventing the enemy from settling in its neighbor’s house. To avoid conflict, all that was needed was for NATO and Ukraine to withdraw from membership. This did not happen. However, Russia is not just any country. Besides its size and natural resources, its culture and traditions, it is important for world capitalism, as well as being a military power. If it is no longer the Soviet Union, the superpower, it is still an economic and, even more, a military force. NATO has 2,000 tanks in Europe and Russia has 20,000. Germany has 65,000 troops and Russia has one million. These few examples, plus the nuclear arsenal, make clear Russia’s military strength and the danger in wanting to confront it. Vladimir Putin, on his turn, is a determined president and strategist, which makes the situation even more difficult for his adversaries. In addition, Russia, besides having some small allies, especially in the region, has shrewdly used a policy to soften or neutralize some countries and, especially, is approaching China, which is a potential ally, not only with great military strength, but an economic power that competes with the United States for the first place worldwide. The economic sanctions affect Russia, but not in the way one would like and they, in many cases, negatively affect the very countries that impose them. If it were just another small country subjected to yet another US invasion, such sanctions would be far more effective, but this is not the case.
In this context, threatening Russia is a bit senseless. Of course, there are several determinations for this. One of these determinations is the need for the expansion of war capital (or “war industry”). NATO is one of the main consumers of arms in the world, and its expansion means consumption of armaments. The threat of war, in turn, justifies and encourages the purchase of armaments. Germany has already announced “massive defense spending”, reaching 2% of GDP [Gross Domestic Product] after the outbreak of the conflict. War capital, like every capitalist company, needs profit, and for this it needs to sell, because this is the only way it can accumulate capital. However, war capital has a specific consumer market. National states are the main buyers of weapons, followed by opposing sectors (guerrillas, separatists, etc.). The civilian population is a small sector of its consumer market, being somewhat larger in the United States, where the use of weapons by civilians is permitted, but in other countries, where it is prohibited, it is very restricted. Criminals and gangs are other consumers, although often of “second hand” weapons. States arm their internal (police apparatus) and external (army) repressive apparatus. In times of war the massive destruction of weapons generates the need for expanded renewal of their consumption. Thus, the expanded reproduction of war capital is one of the determinations of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Another determination of the conflict is Russia, which not only aims at its defense and preventing NATO’s extension, but also has expansionist interests. Actually, Russia has not only lost space since the end of the former Soviet Union, but this also has worsened. So it’s a defensive action. However, once it’s victorious in the conflict against Ukraine, as well as its more recent alliances and actions, it opens up space to seek to regain what it has lost. This is not explicit, but Russia is still an important country for world capitalism and that has a national capital that needs expansion due to the process of expanded reproduction of capital. The problem is that it is not possible to expand into places that are already under the domination of others. The biggest piece of the cake, or almost the whole cake, is in the hands of the United States and its European allies. And Europe is the weakest link, militarily speaking, in this alliance. So, behind the Russian action, besides geopolitics, there are economic interests.
China has similar interests, so an alliance between the two is likely, if it doesn’t already exist. It is the second largest military power in the world, second only to the U.S., has the largest navy in the world, and has been making increasing investments in various sectors and with a modernization program until 2035. Thus, an alliance between Russia and China makes the world situation balanced on the military level. The absolute dominance of the USA is threatened economically by China and now militarily by its alliance with Russia, changing the world scenario. Russia and China have imperialistic ambitions and the obstacle is the US, which maintains its dream of “owning the world”. Russia would fatally rise from the ashes with the advance of its national capital. China, with its mixed capitalism (state capitalism and private capitalism) has a privileged economic situation, because it unites the competition and high profits of private capitalism with the planning and strategy of state capitalism. Chinese global expansion is already foreseen and a reality on the economic plane, as it throws its tentacles not only into Asia, but also into Africa and several other regions of the world. This means that the interests of Russia and China are another determination of the conflict with Ukraine, going beyond mere defense and “fear” of the advance of NATO. China’s advance on Taiwan shows that the era of moderation of US adversaries is over.
The US, in turn, has been losing space. On an economic level, China has been having a superior economic development and there are predictions that by 2025 it would have already surpassed the USA. In case this happens, which may or may not be postponed by the latest setbacks in the Chinese economy, it is one more reason for the bang-bang country to arm itself and use other strategies besides the purely economic ones. China’s economic power and its expansionist strategies on the world market, as well as its potential alliance with Russia, make Ukraine a strategic country for the US and its allies. Behind NATO’s expansion is not only war capital, but also US imperialism, which is another determination of the conflict. The planet earth is finite, but the accumulation of capital wants to be infinite, and if before the joke was told of Cecil Rhodes, who “would annex the planets if he could,” today there are many projects for the conquest of space. On a finite planet, power is distributed and some want to keep or increase their share and others want redistribution.
Behind it all, we have class struggle. The national states are apparatuses of capital. Basically, the war is waged by capital. It’s capital that dominates the states. The determinations of war that we have mentioned above all refer to the interests of national capital (USA, China, Russia, Europeans, etc.), as well as to war capital, which is predominantly American. The US condemns the Russian attack on Ukraine, but knows that both the NATO expansion and the Russian response express its interests. Behind the “humanitarian” discourse, the US hides its narrow interests. This all means that the state and imperialist war serves the interests of the bourgeoisie. And those who will die in the war will be, fundamentally, the soldiers and individuals from the lower classes. War renews capital and its domination and therefore is in its interest, even though it is a double-edged sword, because it can generate the rise of social struggles, as well as its consequences can even generate attempts at revolutions. The proletariat can only expect some benefits if the war produces unwanted effects for capital, such as attempts at revolution. War strengthens irrationality, nationalism, and weakens the perception of the real interests behind it and that it is a product of capitalism and for its reproduction, as well as dividing the world proletariat by nations. The state war is bourgeois and for this reason it must be fought before its outbreak, even to avoid thousands (or millions) of deaths, although it is an inglorious struggle, given the propaganda power of capital. The way forward is to try to strengthen the proletariat, combat the false discourses, nationalism, etc. and at the same time prepare strategies in case of an extended or world war and defend the world union of the proletariat against the society that generates wars and destruction, that is, against capitalism.
 The word “manichaeism” here means an illusory consciousness that divides the world into opposing, incompatible aspects, such as good and evil. Thus, Ukraine (and NATO) would be essentially “good”, and Russia would have a “bad” nature, or the opposite, which reproduces a vision that is very present, for example, in religious doctrines. [Translator’s Note]
 Russia’s territorial losses after the dissolution of the Soviet Union have widened since the early 1991s, which became known as the end of the block of state capitalism, generally referred to as “socialism”. In this period onward, Russia began its transition to private capitalism. [Translator’s Note]