Robert Tombs is a professor emeritus of history at the university of Cambridge and a contributor to mainstream newspapers such as The Telegraph, The Spectator and The Times. He is without doubt a high profile bourgeois historian and has therefore built a career on being an expert at repackaging bourgeois propaganda. His most recent article is no exception, published by The Telegraph on the 31st of December 2021, titled “Like in 1914 or 1939, we may be sleepwalking towards a global war that nothing can stop”.
Before we begin it’s worth noting that the subtitle “there are lessons from previous conflicts that could prevent another from starting” contradicts the title’s thesis that there is nothing that can stop the global war we are sleepwalking towards. The truth is Prof. Tombs does not intend to provide such lessons that might help avert the global war because his career is based upon doing the exact opposite, that is, helping us “sleepwalk” towards it.
Whitewashing imperialism – no accountability for hundreds of millions dead
Prof. Tombs opens his article with the statement “catastrophe can come out of the blue”, by which he implies that even at the highest levels of government, officials can be unaware that a war is going to break out. He implies that wars, even in the 21st century, are not necessarily premeditated events in which the imperialists for their own profits send the sons and daughters of the working class to the slaughter. He attempts to demonstrate his bizarre statement by references to historical examples such as the first and second world wars, which if anything demonstrated the exact opposite.
It seems Prof. Tombs is unaware that WWII had been carefully prepared for over a decade by Britain, France and the USA who wanted to unleash Germany and the power of the 3rd Reich on the Soviet Union. Details of this can be found in the text from a communiqué issued by the Soviet Information Bureau in 1948 titled Falsificators of History (an historical note).
When it comes to his 1914 example he mentions nothing of the decades of increased military spending, tension and aggression between the imperialist nations in the lead up to WWI. Although later in the very same article he contradicts himself, saying that during this period Germany’s “rivals seemed to be ‘encircling’ it, and preparing for war.”
With these examples he is conveniently ignoring the historical facts that contradict the points he wants to make – a malpractice that is second nature to Prof. Tombs. With such omissions of historical facts Prof. Tombs whitewashes imperialism; he sweeps under the rug the atrocities such as the Holocaust and the countless millions who have died or been denied a dignified life in the name of imperialism; he precisely conceals the lessons that could be learned in order to prevent such catastrophes from happening again.
Bourgeois propagandists masquerade as knowledgeable sources
There is one useful lesson Prof. Tombs draws from history, which is that the nation which is the established dominant power will attack the growing nation which can challenge it when the prior feels like their position of dominance is slipping away if they don’t act soon. This is a correct observation about the epoch of imperialism, though the question remains, how can we know which nation is the rising power challenging the established dominance of the other?
Here Prof. Tombs teaches us the imperialist way, not the scientific way, of answering this question. The imperialist way to answer the question is by starting with the desired conclusion, that a predetermined nation is the aggressor, and then working backwards to try and make the conclusion convincing i.e. if there is no evidence to support it then it is fabricated or at least its existence implied, and if there is evidence that doesn’t support it this evidence must be omitted.
He showcases this method when he uses WWI as an example to prove his historical lesson in practice. In this case he wants to demonstrate the British lie that Germany was the aggressor in WWI, so he goes on to assert that “by the 1900s, the country’s [Germany’s] rise had stalled, and Germany’s chances of becoming one of the leading world powers was slipping away.” If this were true then according to his historical lesson Germany should have indeed been the aggressor, but the data suggests otherwise:
Britain’s share of world trade had declined between 1880 and 1913 from 38.2 per cent to 30.2 per cent whereas Germany’s share had increased in the same period from 17.2 per cent to 26.6 per cent.i
Between 1890 and 1913 German exports had tripled and by 1913 Germany’s share of world manufacturing production was at 14.8 per cent, ahead of Britain’s 13.6 per cent, and by 1913 American and German exports dominated the world steel market as Britain slipped to third place.
If we look at steel, by 1914 German output was 17.6 million tons, larger than the combined output of Britain, France and Russia.ii
All these facts indicate that Germany was a growing power before WWI, challenging the domination of the Triple Entente and threatening to encroach on “their” markets and “their” empires. Therefore we can learn from his historical lesson that it was in fact the Triple Entente who were the aggressors in WWI. If this is the case then Prof. Tombs’ contradictory admission that “[Germany’s] rivals seemed to be encircling it, and preparing for war” makes perfect sense.
But enough about history. Not content with his blatant mischaracterisation of WWI our “history professor” proceeds to apply his imperialist method to predict who will be the aggressors in the next world war.
Russia and China are the main targets because they lead the resistance against imperialism
In November 2016 Joti Brar gave a presentation to the Stalin Society about the drive to war against Russia and China, explaining in detail why it is that the Nato imperialists are the aggressors preparing to attack Russia and China who stand in the way of their global domination.
Prof. Tombs on the contrary argues why it is that we should be afraid of Russia and China. He argues that those nations are the aggressors and that if a war breaks out it will be one of them who provokes it. Having just made his erroneous assertion about Germany being the aggressor in WWI because it had started declining, he goes on to say “today, Russia is still powerful, but in decline. China until recently appeared to be in unstoppable ascent. But now its economy is stalling, its population ageing, and (like Germany before 1914) it has alarmed its rivals.”
We have just shown that the only reason Germany before 1914 had “alarmed its rivals” was because of its rising power and challenge to the domination of the Triple Entente, who were also the aggressors in that conflict as he himself unwittingly admitted.
Therefore when he characterises Russia as declining and China as having stalled it should be taken with a large pinch of salt since we know he is only characterising them this way because he wants to claim they are the aggressors.
To see if his assertion is right or wrong we can examine the data we have on GDP growth for these countries and make a comparison between Russia and China’s growth versus the growth of the USA and its most powerful allies, the group of seven (G7), which are all Nato members except for Japan which is a global partner. The GDP growth percentage at fixed prices although not giving a full picture is still an indicator we can use. Below is a chart showing this comparison of GDP growth over the past 20 years (sourced from the IMF World Economic Outlook Database):
Even though the Russian economy was hit hard with the 2008 crash, took a hit after 2014 coinciding with the Euromaidan coup and conflict in Ukraine, and has suffered again in 2020 with the pandemic, the IMF forecasts expect it to bounce back and continue with steady growth. This growth can be expected because whilst Russia has been continually under economic pressure and attack from the West it has become more resilient to sanctions and strengthened itself internally. Its recent partnership with China should also help provide economic stability and new opportunities for growth. From this data Russia does not look like a country in decline as characterised by Prof. Tombs, especially not if compared to the USA and G7 countries.
On the 28th of October 2021 an article titled “The rise of Russia: United States is no longer master of the world” appeared in the Herland Report. This article, perhaps with a premature title, looks at the rise of Russia from a different perspective considering defence, technology, statecraft, diplomacy, allegiances and geopolitical strength. From this perspective it does not seem that Russia’s position is declining, rather the opposite. Take for example the Russian assistance in the Syrian war which lead to victory against the USA and Nato backed forces. Meanwhile Nato has recently retreated from Afghanistan and they have given up on Ukraine. It seems that Russia is accumulating victory after victory and Nato is suffering defeat after defeat: it looks like the tide has turned.
To add insult to injury the pandemic has affected the USA and G7 economies more severely and their prospects of new avenues for growth are scant. They first hollowed themselves out of productive forces so that they could feed off the rest of the world like parasites but now they are running out of new hosts and it is not clear how they can keep growing.
And then in a separate league there is China. There are few people who have not heard of the incredible growth of China. While it is true that the growth rate of China has come down over recent years, it has come down from more than 10% and seems to be stabilising at a staggering 7%. Even the pandemic could not stop China’s growth. The pandemic caused China’s lowest recorded growth rate since the 1970s and this was still a growth which the USA would be happy with in a good year. In fact since 1977 China’s growth rate has never been lower than that of the USA.
It is abundantly clear that China is rapidly catching up with, and destined to, overtake the USA.
China has not stagnated as Prof. Tombs is laughably claiming, because stagnating would mean growth rates around 0. But China continues growing at several times the rate of the USA and G7, so if we’re determining who will be the aggressor in the coming war by who is worried about being overtaken, the answer is quite obvious. Prof. Tombs avoids any comparisons because he doesn’t want the reader to realise that according to his own historical lesson it is clear that the USA is the ultimate aggressor.
The USA and its NATO dogs are the aggressors we should be worries about
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union the USA has enjoyed the status of global hegemon; it has dominated the entire globe wielding its greedy influence wherever it pleased, with it’s military patrolling every continent like the world police, overthrowing elected governments that put people over profits and launching wars against those it couldn’t overthrow. Its Nato pack of dogs are always by its side anxious to get their share of the spoils.
But everything comes to an end. Now it is this great imperialist power and its dogs that are in chronic decline, and the greatest challenge they face is the coalition of Russia and China. That is why Nato bases surround Russia and China; that is why Nato has been expanding into East Europe all these years and why they’re increasing their presence in the South China Sea.
It is Nato with the USA at the helm that is desperate to stamp down the rise of Russia and China and it is Prof. Tombs who is desperate for us not to know this so that we may sleepwalk into the next global war supporting Nato and believing that Russia and China are the aggressors.
Prof. Tombs was correct when he wrote “the danger is that conciliation is hard to distinguish from ‘appeasement’, and may encourage aggression.” This is precisely why Russia and China are hardening up; they’ve learned that imperialism must be outmatched and if necessary outfought. Appeasement will never work. A Gorbachev strategy of conciliation and peace with imperialism, or counting on imperialists as allies, is a misguided fantasy that can only end in disaster as proven by Russia in the 1990s.
We can and we must fight back by raising the consciousness of the working class. The working class must be woken up and made to realise that the imperialist system uses “trusted” figures of authority like Prof. Tombs to feed them their enemy’s narrative and keep them asleep so they can sleepwalk into the next world war. They must learn these lessons so that they can organise to fight the real enemy – imperialism and its Nato alliance – before it’s too late; to prevent the coming world war from happening it is essential to stand in solidarity with Russia, China, and all the nations that refuse to bend the knee to imperialism; they are our allies against the real aggressors – the imperialists who oppress and threaten the workers of the world.
i) Michael Balfour, West Germany (London: Ernest Benn, 1968), p. 53.
ii) Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (London: Fontana, 1989), p. 271.