Crisis, neo-imperialism and resistance
In the aftermath of September 11th, the war in Iraq was the climax of the neoconservatives’ influence. The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime, without the UN’s endorsement and against the opposition of the US’s traditional allies, was a paramount example of the unilateral thrust in America’s foreign policy.
In the long run, the victory over Iraq and its aftermath might follow two distinctive paths. The US might turn its military victory into a political break-through, with Iraq becoming a platform for the US to expand its rule across the region and the world, redrawing the map of world power altogether. In the words of Charles Krauthammer, this would entail moving away from the ’unipolar moment’ typical of the aftermath of the cold war and the demise of the former USSR and into a new, ’unipolar era’. Another likely scenario might be a US not ready to take the responsibilities entailed by its recent neoimperialist course, or else a much too dear cost to pay for it, which might force it to backtrack from its worldwide offensive. This scenario would bring about a diminished US influence over the world system, thus revealing the gap between its overwhelming military muscle and its ability to effectively shape the world along the lines of its own interest.
Since the future course taken by American policymakers vis-a-vis that hegemonic makeover, one that will be detrimental to its imperialist rivals and the semicolonial bourgeoisies alike, is a key element for the present situation worldwide, the path eventually chosen by them in the aftermath of Iraq will dramatically impinge on the world situation as a whole.
The neoconservative ’agenda’
The regime change in Baghdad is the single most important operation undertaken by the US since its war-bent offensive was launched. It was the opening salvo of the ’neoconservative’ agenda, which seeks to reshape American hegemony. As Thomas Donnelly puts it, in a recent issue of National Security Outlook, the mouthpiece of the American Enterprise Institute, ’the key question now is how the US can draw upon its victory in Iraq to uphold, expand and institutionalize a Pax Americana.’
The attack on Iraq has proved the US has decided to alter the foundations of the world order for its own benefit. The author of the article quoted above claims it all boils down to ’Preserving American Supremacy, Institutionalizing Unipolarity.’
The outcome is a turn-about in the foreign policy pursued by the world’s top superpower, which seeks to consacrate the US as an unchallenged power, dramatically changing the status quo in the process. The developments in the Middle East are a most telling testimony in this regard, with the present political and geopolitical balances shattered by the war and its aftermath.
The new course trumpeted by the so-called ’Bush doctrine’ leaves the multilateral approach behind, which a strand of the American elite deemed -and still does- as the most convenient one when it comes to hegemonic pretensions and wrapping up their vested national interest.
This approach came to life under the auspices of President Wilson (1913-1921) as a rationale for a global interventionist policy postulating the US was a well-meaning global gendarme. It also laid the basis for both the ideology and the institutions created in the wake of the World War II, which remained in operation during the administrations of Bush and Clinton in the 1990s. Quite otherwise, the new approach ‘It is not about Clinton’s multilateralism; the President does not rely on the United Nations, he does not trust arms’ control nor does he have any illusions at to any ‘peace process’ He does not stand by the balance of forces postulated by his father’s realism. It is, rather, a statement that true peace and security will just be achieved by reassuring both US military force and political principles’.
The present agenda reminds some analysts of that pursued towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, a period in which the US undertook the invasion of the whole Caribbean region, Central America and even the Pacific basin. It just sought to keep the European powers away from the American continent and hold the key to a direct route to Asia, thus laying the foundations for the expansion of American imperialism on the world arena. For the sake of precision, we should say that the present neoconservative philosophy is akin to that of President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1908), and opposed to Wilson’s, which was the prevailing pattern of American foreign policy all throughout the last century. There also some striking similarities. According to Henry Kissinger, Theodore Roosevelt ’was the first president that insisted it was the duty of the US to make its influence felt on a global scale, relating the country to the world in terms of the concept of national interest (...) The first step he took (...) was to construe the Monroe Doctrine along extremely interventionist lines in the spirit of the imperial doctrines of the time. That is what I call a ’corollary’ to the Monroe Doctrine (...) one proclaiming, by and large, a right to intervention by’ any civilized nation’, which the US alone in the American continent was entitled to enforce’. Using words that call to mind the ones used by Bush in his speech before the UN when he sought international support for his crusade against Iraq, which also echo the neoconservatives’ criticisms leveled at Clinton’s agenda, he says that: ’I deem the stance of Wilson-Bryan as abhorrent, because they trusted in bombastic peace treaties, in fantastic promises, in all kinds of pieces of paper that did not rely on an efficient force (...) A lukewarm righteousness which does not rely on force is as evil as, and even more harmful than, force not backed by justice’.
The brazen proclamation of national interest has gone hand in hand with an agenda relying mainly on force and the distrust of multilateral institutions, which make the it resemble the tough realism of Theodore Roosevelt. At the same time, however, it also goes and hand with a Wilsonian view of promoting American values, in the belief that their assumed universal nature must force other countries to adopt them without any need of negotiating them. Thus, Mr. Wolfowitz, a notorious neoconservative pundit and Deputy Secretary of Defense, declared that: ’Winning the war against terrorism and contributing to build a more peaceful world means that we have to address the hundreds of millions of tolerant and moderate people in the Muslim world, wherever they might live, and who have a desire to enjoy the benefits of freedom, democracy and free enterprise. On some occasions, these values are described as ’Western values’, but in fact we see them in Asia and elsewhere because they are universal values, born out of a common human aspiration’.
All in all, this is an agenda that resorts to what has been the traditional ’progressive’ wrapping of the foreign agenda pursued by the US’s imperialism, this time used by the right wing to promote a brazenly imperialistic policy.
However, this attempt of the US at reshaping a new world order stands in stark contrast to past attempts, and this is the case because the former is no longer an imperialist power on the rise, but one in decline. In other words, when the US entered the world arena, it was young and robust, with the necessary force to make the world adopt its view of international relationships. In 1945, after World War II, America was so powerful that it seemed able to shape the world as it saw fit. But not anymore. The existence of three almost equally strong economic blocs means that the US cannot retreat from the world, nor can it rule over it completely. Given this situation, the attempt at imposing ’a liberal international order superior to that existent in the wake of World War II’ , based on a new network of alliances between states sharing ’the interests and principles’ espoused by the US has been predicated upon a mixture of adventurism on one hand and voluntarism on the other. Such initiative can only fuel clashes and heighten the tensions on the world scenario (the war in Iraq), which, should they grow stronger and persistent, might become a serious threat to US rule itself.
The domestic agenda of the neoconservatives: warmongering at home
American ’unilateralism’ has deep economic roots. The so-called ’globalization’, which led to an imperialist take over of the peripheral countries through market deregulation, privatization and the exploitation of cheap labour, has just nurtured the most rapacious appetites of US capital.
Since the Reagan administration, that policy went hand in hand with the emergence of the ’new rich’ against the background of the 1980s-1990s boom and the speculative frenzy that went with it. Both developments, an increased oppression of the periphery combined with a major social regression at home, have laid the basis for the emergence, within the American elite, of a social base advocating a return to the most barbaric forms of imperialism. The Bush administration is the most determined spokesperson for those quarters. In other words, the nature of capitalist accumulation in the last few decades has nourished social, political and economic forces that remind us of the validity of Lenin’s dictum: imperialism is reactionary through and through.
The war in Iraq revealed this truth crystal clear in the eyes
of millions. A not so well-known development is that occuring on a domestic level, which entails a significant social regression, a phenomenon The Nation has branded as ’rolling back the 20th century’. This magazine is the most conspicuous mouthpiece of progressive liberalism. The following piece was published there: ‘The movement’s grand ambition—one can no longer say grandiose—is to roll back the twentieth century, quite literally. That is, defenestrate the federal government and reduce its scale and powers to a level well below what it was before the New Deal’s centralization (...)The primacy of private property rights is re-established over the shared public priorities expressed in government regulation. Above all, private wealth—both enterprises and individuals with higher incomes—are permanently insulated from the progressive claims of the graduated income tax.’
The Bush administration has already taken some measures along those lines, such as the tax cuts for the rich; the scrapping of the taxes on dividends; the union ban imposed on civil servants in the recently created State Domestic Security Area, etc.
The measures advocated by the neoconservative agenda entail a massive change in the living conditions of the American people and middle class. To sum up, that view envisages the following concrete items: a) elimination of federal taxes on private capital; b) a privatization of social security and the eventual scrapping of any collective form of pension savings, and their transformation into individual accounts; c) the government is to give up on any assistance to housing , health and poor relief schemes, along with many other long-established social provision schemes; d) reinstate the church, the family and private education to make them fulfill a more influential role in the cultural life of the nation, giving them fresh funding (public money); e) support the enterprises and do away with any constraint or regulation on them, especially those concerning protection of the environment and f) smash unionized labor altogether.
These measures entail a huge step back. The mouthpiece for the City of London, the Financial Times, which has rarely shown any concern for social issues, smells a rat (’there is something else involved’) in this outlook advocated by the ’Republican extremists’, who have proposed to slash public expenditure, ’particularly that going to social provision’ through the ’back door’. In a very surprising editorial published on May 23, 2003, the fiscal policy of the US is branded as ’a madhouse in the hands of lunatics’. ’The Bush team has just thrown prudence out of the window’. And they acrimoniously add that ’it is not enough for them to undermine the multilateral world order; they are also overhauling income distribution’. A most astonishing statement indeed from these champions of neoliberal reforms!
Then, both the ’progressive’ Nation as well as the conservative Financial Times are voicing concern over the neoconservative agenda, to the effect that it means a massive step back and a loss of gains conquered by the proletariat and the people of the US through years of harsh struggle. The project will also do away with all regulations on big business, which were brought in after the 1929 crash, in a return to a 19th century-styled capitalism, a wild capitalism, which has been called one of ’robber barons’.
In the words of The Nation: ‘Looking back over this list, one sees many of the old peevish conservative resentments—Social Security, the income tax, regulation of business, labor unions, big government centralized in Washington—that represent the great battles that conservatives lost during early decades of the twentieth century. That is why the McKinley era represents a lost Eden the right has set out to restore.’
William MacKinley was the American president from 1897 to 1901, when he was assassinated and replaced by Theodore Roosevelt. His administration was a direct representative of the ’big lords of capitalism’, a handful of tycoons that held the reins of industry and finance between 1865-1900. It was a society in which social inequality was provided a rationale and the virtues of wealth were extolled -big corporations were hailed as almost sacred institutions and the masses pushed to resignation. Philantropy and the church both played a key role when it came to guaranteeing the reproduction of such social relationships.
All these elements mentioned above lead us to conclude that we are witnessing a move seeking to return to the most brazen forms of ’wild capitalism’ -by and large alien to the main advanced countries for most of the second half of the 20th century- at the behest of the most rapacious quarters of finance capital. Therefore, the new agenda represents a radical change in the bourgeois offensive, with regards to the first right wing wave inaugurated under the auspices of the Reagan administration. This first wave, continued in the 1990s, not only brought about a radical change in the relationships between the classes, but also within the bourgeoisie itself. With regards to the former, social regression provoked a sustained atomization of the working class and a polarization of the middle class, which split between a significant -albeit minority- rich tier at the top and the impoverished lot. In turn, this was the end of hitherto rising standards of living and upward social mobility, which had been typical for the middle class as a whole during the boom. Within the bourgeoisie, in turn, a massive concentration and centralization of wealth took place, with industry and the fat cats of finance getting the lion’s share -some 13,000 individuals bear in their hands as much as 4% of the GDP of the biggest economy in the world. This actual capitalist ’plutocracy’ is intertwined by thousands of links to the American bipartisan regime, and gave a completely new orientation to the key levers of the capitalist state, dropping the old ’Keynesian commitment’ and switching to policies that allowed the get-rich-quick frenzy within the top tiers of the capitalist class. In this sense, we might brand ’neoliberalism’ as a, or a project for a, new type of state, in order to chart this fundamental change within the structure of the American ruling class and the functions of the imperial state.
Compared to ’neoliberalism’, the present neoconservative wave seeks to legitimate and consolidate such rule as a fait accompli, deepening and spreading this changed conditions not only to the socio-economic terrain, but also into realm of politics and culture, uprooting any trace of egalitarianism. The corollary of this has been, on the level of the political regime, an unprecedented curtailment of all democratic rights, reinforcing the authority of the presidency and the control of all state powers by the most right wing fringes of the political establishment. In the view of The Nation: ‘All in all, the right’s agenda promises a reordering that will drive the country toward greater separation and segmentation of its many social elements—higher walls and more distance for those who wish to protect themselves from messy diversity. The trend of social disintegration, including the slow breakup of the broad middle class, has been under way for several decades—fissures generated by growing inequalities of status and well-being. The right proposes to legitimize and encourage these deep social changes in the name of greater autonomy. Dismantle the common assets of society, give people back their tax money and let everyone fend for himself.’
In conclusion, warmongering abroad goes hand in hand with the neoconservatives’ reactionary domestic agenda. Both of them, in turn, bear extremely jingoistic overtones.
Fordism and/or Americanism and Wilsonism represented the outlooks postulated by American capitalism when it was on the rise; the foundations on which its hegemony on labor at home and on rival powers abroad were built. After World War II, they enabled the US to become a hegemonic power, shaping the world institutions in line with its interests and needs. Neoconservatism entails a very different kind of hegemony. Thus, the abandonment of ’multilateralism’ in the realm of foreign policy has gone hand in hand with an attempt at destroying and replacing those elements of ’persuasion’ (in Gramsci’ words) that coopted and subjected the working class during the boom bonanza. The new agenda, instead, entails an increasing authoritarianism and/or Bonapartism, and also a renewed emphasis on traditional moral values -themselves the by-product of the crisis and decline of American capitalism.
The constraints on the US’s military power
The neoconservative agenda has gained an increasing acceptance within the ranks of the American elite , in a reflection of deep tendencies at work within US capital. However, it is plagued by strong contradictions, potential risks. Furthermore, there is an abysmal gap between an unchallenged military supremacy, which underpins the fresh massive militarist thrust of foreign policy, and the unwillingness to put up with the sacrifices entailed by the former.
From an economic point of view, the current US foreign policy is cut across by a structural contradiction: the transformation of the US, in the last fifteen years, in the the world’s most indebted nation. Foreign direct investment accounts for 5-6% of its GDP and 40% of its debt is in the hands of foreign bond-holders. So, confronted with its ’imperial’ ambitions, the US’s creditors, especially European capital, might think twice when it comes to keep the cash flowing in and bankroll the US at current levels.
But if we cast aside this serious economic constraint, the neoconservative agenda still has to deal with an enormous stumbling block. The present move to set up an ’American empire’ entails a radical shift in the relationships between the main advanced countries and the backward nations in the periphery, and this comes after the massive struggles of national liberation that rocked the 20th century.
The turn towards a more direct imperial rule, now being implemented in Iraq, is bound to clash with the flat fact that a colonial rule today is far more difficult to implement than it was at the onset of imperialism. In the words of Eric Hobsbawn: ’In the past it could be done because, in most regions of the world, people were ready to accept the rationale of power. The British were able to preside over the Indian empire, which was much bigger than Great Britain itself. They ruled over hundreds of millions of people with a minimum amount of British troops and officials, partly because the Indians had been subjected to various conquerors and put up with the logic of the situation. Besides (...) the British Empire in India depended, to a certain extent, on the alliances with the Indian princes, who were their subjects, but nevertheless stood by the British.’
This picture, drawn by a Marxist historian, is now shared by the most far-sighted sections of the imperialist bourgeoisie in the face of the actual obstacles hindering the establishment and consolidation of the US rule in Iraq and the Middle East. Martin Wolff, one of the main editorial writers of the Financial Times, has commented on the current US attempt at ’nation building’: ’Those difficulties are bigger today than they were a century or more ago. What happens on the field is broadcasted around the world. The voters at home are aware of how much the occupations cost in terms of lives and resources. The conquered, in turn, have no longer a peasant tradition, like in the old agrarian societies. Modern technologies allow them to communicate easily with each other and with the outer world. They are aware of the ideas of self-government, democracy, nationalism on top of which has come an Islamic revival. The British Empire was a creature of its time. It cannot be re-enacted anymore.’
But the main weakness lies in the massive burden that the American population will have to bear as this reshaping of the forms of imperial rule proceeds apace, and the risks that go with it. Joseph Nye claims that ’the American empire is not limited by «imperial overstretching» in the sense of a prohibitive cost share of our GDP. We devoted a bigger share of the GDP to military budget during the Cold War than we do today. Overstretching will come about as a result of the need to uphold order in an increasing number of peripheral countries -more than the public opinion is ready to accept. The polls show little public endorsement for the Empire. Actually, the problem with creating an American Empire might be best defined as one of «imperial subextension». Neither the population nor Congress have shown a will to seriously invest in those instruments needed for «nation-building» and governance as opposed to military force (...) Our army has been instructed to fight rather than do police work (...) It tends to prevent «nation-building» and has built an armed force that is better equipped for knocking down doors, defeat a dictator and then go home, rather than stay put in the hard work of building up a democratic policy.’
The panic created among the US population by the September 11 attacks has favoured Bush to the effect that he was able to embark on a low-cost imperial policy so far, at least on a domestic level, in its two recent victorious imperialist interventions: Afghanistan and Iraq. But a long-term militaristic drive should be predicated on more solid basis at home, which in spite of the sharp turn to the right inaugurated by the Bush administration, are still nowhere to be seen. New social upheavals at home or abroad, new terrorist attacks and a more panicked population might all fuel, in the future, the emergence of a reactionary social base for such endeavors, engineered by the manipulation of a new imperialist demagoguery. Quite on the contrary, the increasing burden entailed by the international position of the US, as well as a leap in the economic crisis at home might fuel hostile forces to the new militaristic and unilateral course (Vietnam was such scenario in the past). The rise of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy could indicate a tendency along those lines, since she is identified with the old multilateral approach in foreign policy under her husband, Bill Clinton. In a more senile form, and more to the left, the figure of Howard Dean and his populist profile might also be a similar symptom. He seems a candidate with good chances for the presidential elections in 2004. These are the two distinct agendas being preemtively put forward by minority sections of the establishment in case the present imperialist course should end in jeopardy or else fail altogether.
However, we can be sure that it will be hard for a long-term militaristic drive to gain the mass consensus so far enjoyed by Bush’s foreign agenda. The most likely scenario is one of polarization of the American people as the after-effects of September 11 trauma fade away. The reasons that we have mentioned above lead us to believe that, although the neoconservative agenda responds to deep tendencies at work within American capital and their aim of upholding world supremacy, it might as well suffer setbacks, or else loss all the temporary appeal it has enjoyed in the wake of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon blasts.
Right now, Iraq has become a proving ground for the ability of the US to handle the increasing challenge mounted by the guerrilla warfare on the ground plus the political awakening of the Shiite population in the south. If the US and the UK achieve a quick success -transforming the present chaos into a stable government- the neoconservatives in Washington will win the day. If nation-building in Iraq should fail miserably, there will be dire consequences ahead. The Financial Times columnist quoted above warns, with a note of horror, that: ’The US should understand the constraints bearing down on their military power. The assumption that their overwhelming force makes the reshaping of world politics a simple matter is just foolhardy. This does not mean the effort should not be done. Sometimes, the truth be said, it is inevitable. But if the US tries to achieve its goals through a militarized foreign policy that overrides the views of its allies and the role of global institutions, it will fail. And this would be a tragedy, not only for the US as such, but for the entire world’. In other words, what terrifies this far-sighted bourgeois commentator is the likelihood of the present militaristic course fatally wounding the only world gendarme, the bulwark of the capitalist system as a whole.
The revival of inter-imperialist conflicts
The US attempted to gain advantages in the realm of trade and finance since the Bretton Woods agreements collapsed in 1971. Furthermore, it has tried to gain an enhanced leverage in the realm of geopolitics, which has put the relations between the states in jeopardy, with the subsequent emergence of inchoately antagonistic imperialist blocs.
It all comes down to the US unilateral ethos, i.e., its unflinching determination to defend its interests whatever the circumstances, which threatens the vital interests of rival imperialist powers, specially those of Europe, forcing them to defend themselves.
With regards to Europe, the most contentious issues so far are:
The projected European security and defense system devised by France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, which envisages a leading body independent from NATO.
The American decision -by and large a response to structural economic factors- to devaluate the dollar against the Euro, thus hampering the economic growth both of France and Germany, which are struggling to snap out of recession. To a certain extent, it is a retribution on the part of the US for their reluctance to support the war in Iraq.
The preparations for the war in Iraq exposed in full light the competence between the US and Europe for political and diplomatic influence over Eastern Europe. In turn, the US has dropped its traditional line of advocating European unification and has been quite busy trying to spoil it.
The rift over a privileged relation with Russia. Whereas the EU, especially Germany, supports the creation of a European Coprosperity Zone encompassing the EU, Russia and former USSR countries, Bush traveled to Saint Petersburg and relaunched friendly relations with Putin, thus giving Russia a preferential treatment that stands in sharp contrast with the fulminations against Germany and France, Russia’s allies during the Iraq standoff.
The projected Free Trade Area in North Africa and the Middle East, which was announced by Bush with the aim of gaining the sympathy of Muslim countries in the region, thus affecting their trade links with Europe, which regards them as its privileged sphere of influence.
The quick US military victory in Iraq has forced those states to make a tactical retreat and bargain for the spoils -the anticlimax of the tension in the run-up to the war. The new UN resolution is a point in case. It endorses the occupation of Iraq by the US. On top of that, Europe has hardened its policy against terrorism and placed renewed emphasis on control of non proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Thus, we have seen a strong European pressure on Iran and the demand that it should accept an inspection regime of its nuclear facilities, in tune with US demands. Last but not least, Europe has decided to freeze its relations with Cuba.
However, the cracks opened in the imperialist system of the world will not be bridged soon. Furthermore, the relationship between the EU and the US might be reaching a turning point. Ivo H. Daalder, from the Brookings Institution claims that ’The short term consequences of American unilateralism have been manageable. The differences opposing the US and its most important European allies have continued to grow, but have not yet reached a point of collapse. But such turning point might be approaching far more quickly than expected. The present crisis in the relations comes at a time when the centripetal forces keeping the alliance united are at its weakest point ever since World War II -with centrifugal forces just as strong as them. Many Europeans feel an increasing anxiety about their inability to affect the behavior of the US’s foreign policy, since that might make the cost of alignment with the US much too dear, to the point of outdoing the benefits.’
From the other side of the Atlantic, Christoph Bertram, a fervent support of the transatlantic link until recently, put out an article titled ’Germany will not be a vassal of the United States’. In it, he refers to the announced plans to create a European Command apart from NATO, arguing that the scheme ’is, of course more symbolic than real. It will not transform the European Union or even the four signataries into a serious international contender (...) The only way to reach that would be a genuine military integration, tying up all members in an irreversible way on matters of defense, like the Euro has done in the realm of monetary policy; the challenge posed by the military plans, then, does not lie in them going too far, but rather in not going far enough to shield themselves from the «divide and rule» American strategy.’
Given the recent rumblings between the two poles of the Atlantic alliance, it is most likely that if America persists on its unilateral course, the rift will end in a break-up, and this factor will prove a far more disruptive element than the still complex process of European unification.
The European challenge
One of the main paradoxes of the international system as it stands today is that the European Union is far too big to be Washington’s docile vassal, but yet too weak and divided so as to be a major counter power to it. That is why the evolution of Europe and how it deals with the challenge of deepening and expanding the European Union in the next decade is of crucial importance to ascertain the global nature of the international order.
The financial fragility of the American economy on one hand, and the mounting doubts nourished by the global agenda being pursued by the Bush administration have dramatically altered the tempo of developments in Europe, spurting a burning discussion on the Euro and the establishment of a common European policy, which will from now be put to the lithmus test of events.
Although it has surfaced in the recent diplomatic clashes over the war in Iraq, the new and open European opposition to America’s unilateral course, along with the renewed emphasis on building the EU, have all to do a previous development: the reinvigoration of the French-German axis.
Expanding the EU required a previous agreement on reforming the institutions and the Common Agricultural Policy to make room for the new Eastern European members. There has been a clash between Germany and France on this issue for years now. This gap was capitalized by Britain, which rallied with Spain and Italy, and in agreement with Germany, could isolate the French. But in September 2002, the French president Chirac tipped the tables, by reaching agreement on the farming policy with the German chancellor, Schroeder, while they rallied in opposition to Bush war-mongering. At the European Summit held on October 25, 2002, the Franco-German axis was rejuvenated, which meant a defeat for Blair. That political maneuver gave them increased autonomy vis-a-vis the US.
Blair’s failed attempt at entry in the euro last June has meant a reinforcement of this course, thus undermining Britain’s position and its ability to play a decisive role, at least in the short term, in the process of building and expanding the EU.
This move has been encouraged by the top echelons of the bourgeoisie and the big corporations, the insurance and finance companies, which will reap juicy benefits from cheap, qualified labor and will also have access to the new protected markets guaranteed by EU institutions.
Although this is a utopian and reactionary plan, and is doomed to failure in the long term, it is all too evident that the need to offset the US and improve the perspectives for European capital on the international arena has also furthered the ongoing process towards state centralization, which encompasses both common policymaking of the different member states and also the creation of supranational bodies. We see a dynamics already envisaged by Ernest Mandel as a hypothesis in his Late Capitalism: ’The model of a continuous inter-imperialist competition, which takes on new historical forms. In this model, although the international merger of capitals has advanced far enough so as to replace a bigger number of independent imperialist powers with a smaller set of imperialist superpowers, the countervailing force of uneven development of capital prevents the formation of a truly global community of interests for capital. The merger of capitals takes place on a continental level, and by the same token, the intercontinental imperialist competition grows even stronger.’
Given the deep tendencies to recession and deflation at work in the world economy, which are seriously impinging upon the European economy, particularly that of Germany, this process will be crisis-ridden and plagued with tensions. Although the recent summit held in Greece succeeded in drafting a blueprint for a Constitution, the facade of unity hides an imbroglio of contradictory national interests, conflictive phylosophical approaches and emerging alliances in preparation for future conflicts.
The main obstacle abroad lies in the opposition put forward by the US, which will is trying to maneuver and play the EU member states against one another, placing its bets on the failure of the project. The US can resort to the Eastern European countries, many of them NATO members -submitting them to strong pressure to make them toe the line when it comes to any vote enhancing the autonomy of the EU- or else play the card of the ’Trojan horses’ (the current Italian and Spanish governments), which are closer to Bush’s agenda, rather than that pursued by their European counterparts. Iraq was a most telling picture in this regard.
On top of this enemy from outside, which the European bourgeoisie should at least neutralize in order to succeed in its endeavor, there is the enemy within to settle accounts with: the European working class. To become a serious imperialist bloc on the world arena, the bourgeoisie in the main countries of Europe needs to decisively change the balance of forces established with their own proletariats at home. They have to do what Reagan did back in the 1980s, which boosted the growth of the US in the following decades. And this is where the present onslaught against the remnants of the welfare state comes in. The meaning of this fight trascends the realm of the economy. The agenda entails enhancing the competitiveness of European capital, slash labor costs and spread the valorization of capital to areas that were the closed domain of the welfare state, in tune with the demands raised by the banks, the insurance companies and the stock exchange.
On a more strategical level, dismantling the welfare state would result in increased military budgets and a serious defense policy, the only way for Europe to gain some leverage in security affairs in the face of the overwhelming military muscle of the US.
Such huge tasks and complex challenges, posed by the consolidation of the EU, are at the root of Europe’s foreign policy, which has always sought, unlike the US, to uphold the status quo worldwide. Europe needs a hassle-free international scenario to focus on the hard tasks at home. This is one of the main roots of its ’pacifist’ stance and its opposition to the adventures the US is keen to embark on.
The fate of Eastern European and former USRR countries
The current dispute between the US and the EU has altered capitalist restoration in Eastern European countries, which had been making steady advances in the last decade. For most of that period, it seemed that the US would let Western Europe transform those countries into their own semicolonies, while regarding the Pacific basin as its main area for capitalist expansion.
The tensions that surfaced during the Iraq standoff saw America tracing a dividing line between ’old’ and ’new’ Europe. Meanwhile, Chirac gave a stern rebuke to those Eastern European countries that had rallied with Washington. Both moves anticipated that that ’idyllic’ period was now coming to an end. If the rifts between the US and the EU deepen in the next few years, this might force those Eastern European governments to opt between one imperialist bloc or the other, with the stability of these countries seriously undermined. We might thus see a re-run of Central Europe’s idiosyncratic instability, with its countries now subjected to the cross pressures coming from rival big powers. Given this picture, EU membership of the first series of Eastern European countries in 2004 might fuel a stand off on security affairs to the effect of their continued membership of NATO.
On the other hand, the new interimperialist rift has seriously impinged upon the government of Putin and the restoration process in Russia. Its consolidation requires full integration of Russia into the world’s capitalist economy. But such a step would entail, for instance, caving in to and implementing the WTO regulations, which would seriously hamper the growth of a still feeble Russian capitalism. Social contradictions would grow tenfold, in a society already mired in a social, economic, cultural and demographic debacle brought about by the unravelling of the bureaucratically planned economy ten years ago. In turn, whereas Russia tried to woo the US once again (after Yeltsin’s era that ended in the 1998 default) in the wake of September 11, there is a flagrant contradiction between Russian interests in the region (and those areas where its former global influence, albeit diminished, remains in place) and the main imperialist power. These contradictory tendencies account for the hesitant and sometimes erratic course of Russia’s foreign policy. In the words of a commentator, Putin has ’great tactical skills but both his domestic and foreign agenda is not so clear (...) Quite often he lacks the means to achieve his goals.’
In other words, Putin has bought extra time, but without being able to reverse the tendency to decline and decomposition that has characterized capitalist restoration right from the beginning, in itself a reflection of the crisis of world capitalism. This has led Russia, in the last few years, to become a producer of raw materials, with a economy that has icnreasingly come to rely on oil and gas revenues, with a massive loss of industrial capacity , and almost all its infrastructure in a state of obsolescence. Devaluation on one hand, and the high prices of oil on the other, brought about stability, more solid than expected , for the Bonapartist regime headed by Putin. However, the fundamental perspective remains unaltered.
Ultimately, it has all to do with Russia’s weakness, rather than its strength, that Putin is still able to maneuver. In fact, there is a growing fear that the collapse of the Russian state might turn his country in the main supplier of weapons of mass destruction worldwide. His regime has engineered a concentration and increased merger of the state on one hand, and finance capital and organized crime on the other . It is therefore a transitory regime, which will either lead to increased decomposition or else will unleash a new mass political intervention (held down by the CP back in 1998), one that might vent the dep sense of humiliation and resentment nourished by the inroads of capitalism and its trail of grief and misery.
The neoconservatives and China
As the war in Iraq was raging, China stood on the sidelines, and although it opposed the US back then, it was not the target of the US’s fulminations, unlike the European ’troika’ -France, Germany and Russia. Still more, the former Chinese premier, Jiang Zemin, was one of the few head of states invited to Bush’s select ranch in Texas. However, in spite of this good will gestures, China is regarded as the ’strategic competitor’ of the US by the neoconservatives. Furthermore, many see the attack on Iraq and Afghanistan and the deployment of a number of American bases in the former soviet republics in Central Asia as the first steps leading to the economic and military strangulation of China.
China has received a massive inflow of direct investment from the West and Japan during the 1990s. Capitalist restoration in China has contradictorily led to the emergence of a regional power to be reckoned with, one that tries to gain increased leverage on the international arena. China’s emergence as an international player clashes with the economic interests and the security needs of the imperialist powers presiding over world capitalism, particularly the US. There is no room for new competitors, and America is bent on taking over that region, which provides markets, cheap labor and raw materials for world capitalism -a drive that leads to the transformation of China into a semi-colony. This is at odds with the material interest of the oppressed and the exploited, which refuse to pay for the cost of the restoration of capitalism and the subsequent semi-colonization of their country. It is also at odds with the ambitions of the restorationist bureaucracy, which is striving to become a new bourgeois class and also refuses to be reduced to a minor player in world politics.
During the last decade, the Clinton administration adopted a policy that encouraged China’s domestic growth, regarding economic prosperity as a key lever to accomodate Beijing into the international order dominated by the US.
The neoconservatives, quite on the contrary, are deeply aware that this policy, for all the trade revenues gained by US corporations with it, is strategically leading (or will lead) China in a direction that does not adjust to the unchallenged domination of the US over the world. John J. Mearsheimer, the main pundit of the so-called ’offensive realism’ school of geopolitics has written that: ‘It is clear that the most dangerous the United States might be confronted with at the start of the 21st century is that of China becoming a potential hegemon in northeast Asia. Of course, China’s perspectives of becoming a potential hegemon largely depend on whether its economy will keep modernizing at as fast pace . If this should happen, and China becomes not only a top producer of cutting-edge technologies, but also the richest power of the world, it would certainly use its wealth to build a powerful military machine. (…) China might develop its own version of the Monroe Doctrine, aimed against the United States (…) China will make it clear that the United States’ interference in Asia is unacceptable’. This analysis is completely devoid of any scientific nature, but it nevertheless is a piece used to provide a rationale for the turn in America’s policy, which has switched from a ’constructive commitment’ to a harsher line of ’containment’: ‘This analysis suggests that the United States has a deep interest in seeing China’s economic growth diminish considerably over the next few years (…) China is still very far from having become powerful enough to grow into a regional hegemonic power (…) That is why is not too late yet for the United States to reverse its course and do whatever it can to stop China’s rise’.
This new geopolitical approach , coming amid one of the worst capitalist crisis ever since World War II, paves the way for the US to take economic, political and/or military retributions against the ’Chinese threat’, at a time when the US trade deficit is getting out of control, mainly due to the negative impact of imports coming from China. Such scenario would boost instability throughout world capitalism, and it might become the ’Achilles heel’ of the much-vaunted Chinese miracle.
The peripheral countries and a renewed ’neoimperialist’ domination
The end of the Cold War torpedoed the rationale historically provided by US imperialism to prop up local elites in peripheral countries as its fundamental allies in the fight against the former USSR, using them as a bulwark against the revolution sweeping across the ’developing world’ -a ’hot spot’ of the postwar world system. In other words, the very existence of its ’client regimes’, one of the mainstays of the postwar order, which enabled the US to exert its hegemony over the world, is now being seriously questioned.
In the wake of 1989, the demise of ’communism’ and the failure of the really ’existing socialism’, as imperialist propaganda portrayed them, were an ideological victory for imperialism. Many peripheral countries looked to ’socialist’ countries as a model to overcome backwardness, and their demise empowered the US to win the ruling elites there over to an agenda of ’neoliberal modernization’. However, this unconditional alignment failed to bring about the much-hoped fruits, plunging many of those countries into serious crisis and reinforcing backwardness there. This is today the prevailing picture in most peripheral countries.
The US, which in the past used to challenge either directly or indirectly the struggles for national liberation, has now come up with a new agenda -after the attacks of September 11- that postulates a challenge to the local elites themselves, which are no longer deemed necessary. The US instead regards them now as a cumbersome burden for both the economic and political needs of US imperialism. Thus, the ’change of regime’ policy testifies to this momentuous change in US policy, from neocolonial forms of rule to more direct ones, which we have branded as ’neoimperialist’. We say ’neoimperialist’ to trace a distinction between the currently reinforced imperialist oppression over the periphery, both from the neocolonial drive that followed World War II, on one hand, and classical colonialism on the other. The former was predicated upon the existence of nations that had gained formal independence but were economically dependent on imperialist domination, whereas the latter was characterized by its destruction of previously existent nations to turn them into suppliers of raw materials, integrating them into a new world division of labor. The present neoimperialist turn bears the destructive features of classical colonialism, but none of its ’virtues’, because it is a reflection of capitalist decomposition, of the parasitic and predatory nature of world imperialism at the onset of the 21st century.
This tendency can be clearly seen in the Middle East, where the defeat of Iraq and the massive deployment of American troops has led the Arab bourgeoisies to caving in to the dictates of their American paymaster all along the line. The reinforced imperialist rule is affecting now all the semicolonial nations, to one extent or another. It has become a threat to the continued independent existence of some of them, or else has brought about a massive erosion in their autonomy.
This massively reinforced imperialist oppression is encouraging (or might drive) the national bourgeoisies, in spite of their waverings and cowardice, to try and regain some room of independent maneuver with regards to imperialism. Although so far we have just seen gestures or propagandistic measures , this is a tendency that can no longer be ignored. However, compared to the early nationalist undertakings of a then young bourgeoisie, these gestures are (will be) of a senile nature, with the cycle of rise and decline a much shorter one. Bourgeois nationalism, then, is poised to play a more ephemeral role today. There are powerful reasons for this: the increased integration of these countries to the world economy -this time as manufacturers, not only as suppliers of raw materials like it used to be in the late 19th-early 20th century; the closer links tying up sections of the national bourgeoisie and their imperialist counterparts, totally bent of finance and looters of the assets and savings of their nations, just like their imperial paymasters. These have made imperialism and the national bourgeoisie the big winners against the proletariat in semicolonial nations, as opposed to the last century, which will surely be a source for a bitter class struggle between the two main contestants on the world arena: the working class and imperialism.
The class struggle at the turn of the century
Proletarian subjectivity is at an all time low now, lagging considerably behind the decline and deep-going crisis of the capitalist system today. That backwardness has come about as a result of the structural changes within the working class brought about by the neoliberal offensive, the turn to the right of the existing leaderships of the working class movement and, in the main, the absence of victorious revolutions in the last few decades.
Having said that, we can say that the position of the working class today is different to that of the early 1990s. In between, the anticapitalist movement has come into existence, there has been widespread resistance to ’neoliberal’ plans and reformism is undergoing a crisis after years of presiding over a deep capitalist crisis. On top of that, the last few months have seen the spectacular emergence of a movement against the war in Iraq. All these lead us to conclude that, if those sections are not defeated, the struggles might harden and new developments might take place when it comes to the subjectivity of the working class and the mass movement.
The most powerful indicator in this sense has been the massive nature and worldwide scope of the pacifist movement that unfolded in the run-up to the war in Iraq -probably the biggest opposition ever mounted against an imperialist war aimed against a semicolonial nation. Another sympton pointing in this direction are the dozens of struggles fighting back the neoliberal offensive in the last few years. Regardless of all their shortcomings, they have revealed that we are witnessing a transitional moment whose main ingredients are: the demise of Stalinism, the transformation of socialdemocracy into a strand of social liberalism, i.e., the end of the old working class movement hegemonized by the big counter-revolutionary apparatuses that prevailed for most of the 20th century, and the emergence of new social and political forces. However, this political awakening of millions, or the emergence of new developments, to speak more precisely, still bears the marks of the defeats of the last few decades, the shortcomings in the self-organization of the masses and the weakness of revolutionary Marxism. All these have empowered the old, or new, reformist misleaderships to hold down the new militant layers, preventing them from nurturing a revolutionary subjectivity or else revolutionary radicalization altogether.
Latin America witnessed the emergence of tendencies to direct action at a time when the ’Coordinadora del Agua’ (coordination forum in defense of public water) in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba was set up. This was the first antecedent, and the revolutionary upheavals that ousted the De la Rúa’s government in Argentina were a continuation of them. The defeat of a reactionary coup d’ètat in Venezuela was another milestone set by the direct intervention of the masses. New reformist governments have sprung up across the region, which try to derail and defuse these tendencies: the Chávez administration in Venezuela, president Lula in Brazil, Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez in Ecuador and Mr. Kirchner in Argentina. Right now, they have succeeded in containing the tendencies to the radicalization of the class struggle that were sweeping across the continent. However, the tendencies to direct action or economic/political struggles against the government have not abated in those countries with old regimes still in power, such as that of president Sánchez de Losada in Bolivia, or that of president Toledo in Perú. Nor have they abated in president Lula’s Brazil, since his ’reformist’ government has continued to implement the core of the neoliberal agenda. Bolivia underwent a revolutionary crisis last February and a siege was enforced in Peru to crack down on the revolts of workers and peasants there. Meanwhile, public workers in Brazil staged a massive walkout to protest against the projected reform of the pension system by the PT government. Ecuadorian oil workers went on strike and the peasant federations of Ecuador have also threatened to take to the streets. All these fights might herald heightened clashes sooner or later, shattering the political, social and economic foundations of Latin America, now in turmoil.
Europe, in turn, has seen the emergence of two developments within the mass movement. On one hand, there has been a wave of labor struggles against the cutbacks implemented by European the governments and bosses on social security and other conquests making up the so-called welfare state. The control of the bureaucracy and their corporative attitude is the main advantage playing in the hands of the bosses, at a time of a deep recession, which might lead to major defeats of organized labor. The Raffarin government has prevailed over the public workers’ and teachers’ strikes in France. The action of the union echelons aborted a re-run of the general strike of state workers that ousted the reactionary Juppé government back in 1995. In Germany, in turn, after several days of strike by metal workers from the former East Germany, which had been fighting for a 35-hour working week, the grassroots called off the strike and went back to work without their demands being met, rejecting the call of the IGMetall bureaucracy to carry on with the strike. This is the first defeat suffered by the union, the biggest and most powerful working class organization in the West, which had called this offensive struggle at a time of a deep recession without coordinating the fight with the main contingents of metal workers in the western part of the country.
On the other hand, the anticapitalist movement of the youth was transformed into a wide an massive movement against the war, one of a cross-class nature encompassing the youth itself, former union militants and activists coming from the pacifist movements of the 1960s and 1980s, middle class layers opposed to Bush’s agenda and a significant portion of workers, specially white collar ones. The balance sheet of its intervention is that for all its mass composition, not a shred of radicalization was nurtured by it. In other words, it has failed to encourage the emergence of institutions pitted against the capitalist order, such as soviet-type bodies or else centrist currents orienting themselves towards a revolutionary perspective.
The bureaucratic leaderships in the working class movement are to blame for this in the first place. Apart from issuing statements and voting against the war, and a token participation in some given action (the token strikes in Italy and Spain for instance) they kept organized labor out of the scene. They prevented it from becoming a leading force of the antiwar movement with its methods and program. However, the demoralizing effect of the role played by the existing leaderships of the working class movement, which aborted a likely disruption of the imperialist war machine, should not lead us to forget about the responsibility of centrism. Centrist currents such as the British SWP or the French LCR -which were very active within the movement- prevented the emergence of a truly anti-imperialist current directly out of the demonstrations against the war in Iraq.
The intervention of the SWP is a most telling picture in this regard. Its militants became the best activists of the movement (and even won leading positions) and set up the committees against the war (leading the Stop the War coalition). However, the program raised by them failed to consistently fight against imperialism (particularly the ’democratic’ strand of European imperialism) and advocate the centralized intervention of organized labor in the anti-imperialist struggle. By not doing so, they paved the way for ’opposition’ Labour Party hacks or else ’dissident’ members such as Ken Livingstone, who played a de factoleading role within it while the SWP provided the muscle and the organization.
The same goes for the French LCR, or the Spanish CGT and some currents within Izquierda Unida. They all intervened in a very centrist fashion and raised an anti-war program that was by and large reformist, thus opening the door to much beleaguered parties such as the PSOE and the French PS, which won their day. These currents (along with Refondazione Comunista and the Italian autonomists) enjoyed a mass audience for some time, but their own political shortcomings and the low subjectivity still lingering over the proletariat prevented the emergence of a real challenge against the established order -including the traditional mass parties and unions. The new militancy of the French LCR and the British SWP, or the alternative leaderships such as the Italian COBAS all failed to push those leaderships in a more left-wing direction, nor did they create potentially revolutionary wings within them, mainly due to the fact that there was no radicalization whatsoever. The policy put forward by those organizations boiled down to posing ’alternatives’, respecting the established areas of influence of the traditional organizations of labor, in an attempt to try and grow ’outside the system’. In this way, for all their radical phraseology, their policy did not consist in a challenge to the existing leaderships of organized labor, and this is true of the attitude of the Italian RC and the COBAS towards the CGIL, or the LCR or Lutte Ouvriere in France during the recent antiwar movement or the strikes of the last few months.
Those elements mentioned above point to a slow and winding evolution of the subjectivity of the working class and the mass movement. However, in a longer term, the warmongering of big business, which has come to stay, and the continued rift opposing the imperialist powers to one another, lead us to think that it is very likely that we will see further actions and the outright radicalization of the mass movement and the working class. The disputes opposing the imperialist powers, which have reached its highest peak since the end of World War II can only weaken the capitalist system as a whole, providing the mass movement with a historical chance: going over from defensive struggles to a strategy leading to the revolutionary transformation of the established order. To that end, the working class and the masses worldwide should not trust their own governments or the misleading leaderships within the working class movement anymore, embracing an independent policy standing against all the sections of the imperialist bourgeoisie in the heartlands, and the national bourgeoisie in semicolonial countries. That is the lesson we should draw from the protests against the war in Iraq, which in spite of its mass nature failed to thwart Bush’s determination to launch a war there, because they just rallied behind the ’pacifist’ bloc made up of the European bourgeoisies. Taking steps to work out the crisis of revolutionary leadership of the proletariat becomes a burning need so that it can seize upon the chances furnished by the cracks opened in the ’global order’.
The onset of new era?
The high tension fuelled by a minor conflict such as Iraq’s within the international system might be the opening salvos of a new era.
More than a decade has elapsed since the collapse of the USSR, and world capitalism has been unable to rejuvenate itself, or find a solution to its crises, let alone usher in a new phase of development in order to overcome its historical decline. The so-called ’globalization of finance’ has failed to curtail the growth of capitalist contradictions; quite on the contrary it has just made them worse.
The present situation is cut across by the deep tendencies pointing to a systemic economic crisis worldwide, on the one hand, and the American attempt at reshaping the world map, on the other. When we look at it from a strategic standpoint, both the neoconservative agenda in the US and the offensive against the ’welfare state’ in Europe are showing that the greedy imperialist ambitions on both sides of the Atlantic have gone hand in hand with a harsh attack against the living standards of the local populations. And here comes into play a difference with the previous ’neoliberal’ offensive. The latter was by and large brought in through the means of bourgeois democracy, but this new and more brutal onslaught against labor and whole sections of the population will have to resort to tougher remedies. That is why the increased militarism and the diplomatic clashes abroad have gone hand in hand with increasing Bonapartism at home. All these symptoms point to the birth of a new era, one in which ’the governments, as well as the classes, fight more furiously when the spoils are more squalid than in times of abundance’.
The more aggressive tendencies within capital, of which the neoconservatives are their most determined representatives, will entail, in the next few years ahead, a harsher plight and more grief for the mass movement. Notwithstanding that, from a strategic standpoint there is the following likely scenario, charted by Wallerstein in his comments titled ’Lunatics or Politics?’. He draws a parallel with the bourgeois reaction that followed the French Revolution, which achieved victory in 1815 and led to the restoration of order across Europe and the world at the behest of the Holly Alliance sponsored by Prince Metternich, a keen supporter of the idea of launching a vicious crackdown in retaliation. So he compares that picture with the present situation, stating that: ‘The U.S. hawks are the revival of Metternich and his unabashedly reactionary policies: their macho unilateralism on the world scene, and their truly serious attempt to dismantle the welfare state in the United States. This is why the Financial Times says that "reason cuts no ice" with them. And this is why the heirs of Sir Robert Peel worldwide are so very upset. For just as Metternich’s policies led to the disaster for the world’s conservative forces that occurred in 1848, so Peel’s heirs fear (and expect) that Bush’s policies will do the same, and worse. And that the disaster is on the horizon.
Maybe one day in the future, there will be an Armageddon between left and right.
But in the immediate present, look for a showdown between the Metternich faction and the Peel faction of the forces right of center. The Metternich faction think that the stake is world order. The Peel faction think that the stake is the survival of a capitalist system.’
Although we can also envisage an alternative scenario, for example a crack with consequences even worse than those of Black Monday, or heightened disputes between the imperialist powers with the outbreak of a military conflict between states in any zone of the planet, it is interesting to note here that most farsighted sections of the bourgeoisie fear an eventual backlash of the mass movement if this should be the case.
When considered in the long term, the present situation appears as one plagued by paradoxes when it comes to the two fundamental contestant: the proletariat and the world bourgeoisie. The labor and mass movements, after the betrayals committed by its leaderships during the 20th century, and bogged down by the failure of ’socialism in one country’, which dealt a heavy blow to the Communist utopia, are mired in a huge crisis, both in terms of its leadership and its strategic project. However, the present situation is not favorable for the bourgeoisie, either. The decline of the US as a hegemonic power has gone hand in hand with the emergence of inchoately antagonistic imperialist blocs, which are cut across by enormous structural weaknesses. A most telling example of this is the tortuous path leading to the European Union as a counterbalance to the US. How different it was when the world imperialist system still could count, in the first half of the 20th century, with the powerhouse of American imperialism that came to replace the sclerotic British hegemony!
These two elements, the inherent weaknesses of both of the main rival classes worldwide, might mislead us into thinking that everything remains pretty much the same, in spite of all the shifts and the changes that we are already seeing on the surface. However, the room for maneuver is growing narrower all the time. Our bet is that the working class, in the next few years, should seize the opportunities provided by the class struggle and the growing divisions in the field of the enemy, to achieve a victorious revolution somewhere, one that should empower it to massively weaken imperialist rule altogether.