Saturday, July 09, 2005
Marxism, capitalism and imperialism: from fellow-travellers to evil-doers. posted by Richard SeymourNews says thousands of Brummies are casually bolting it out of the city centre on the orders of police. I expect (or hope) it is a false alarm, and that they are merely being over-cautious. In London, meanwhile, sirens are still wailing like startled banshees up and down the roads, and the weekly fireworks show up at Kenwood on Hampstead Heath is punctuating the skein of city-noise with technicolour explosions, neonising the night sky with a full chromatic diapason. Whose idea was it to have that again this week? Would the millionaires up on the hill kindly keep the noise down?
Long post coming.
Yesterday morning, Galloway and Benn did a double-act alongside a Portuguese Left Bloc MP, discussing the bombings and the socialist response to them. Benn took his traditional approach, which was to say that we urgently need to pursue peaceful means of international politics, the threat of terrorism won't subside until we do, and many many people will agree with us if we raise an emphatic campaign. The Portuguese MP was, in many ways, more interesting. Aside from some fairly straightforward points about resisting the escalating cycle of terror and war, she asked why it is that fundamentalism is on the rise - not merely in Asia Minor, the North of Africa and parts of South Asia, but also in North America. And her tentative answer was that there had been a "collapse of the future", and that the stifling persistence of the present was driving people to seek utopian, millenarian answers to their problems. The answer was, in part, to re-open the future as a vision, renew the projects of human emancipation that could see society in its various forms as a human artefact, not natural or inevitable in any of those forms. Galloway said what needed to be said, and a few other things besides, adding that if some of what he was saying appeared to strike a discordant note for some, this was simply because he wasn't prepared to see this tragedy emblazoned any further with Blair's hypocrisy. Quite right too. A BBC interviewer stood at the door, arms folded, in a crisp suit, while a harassed looking camera man took some shots for a news slot.
Jeremy Corbyn MP and Chris Harman conducted an excellent discussion on the recent uprisings in Bolivia, with the former providing the broad brush treatment and the latter hammering out the condensed class analysis. A translator laboured away at a low volume for Spanish speakers at the back of the room. Among many interesting revelations was the fact that when the government offered a deal based on early elections and a constitutional reshuffle of some sort, Evo Morales received calls from various Latin American leaders urging him to accept - including, unfortunately, Hugo Chavez. It struck me as entirely consistent with Chavez's political strategy, in which he sees his wily operations as substituting for, or occasionally convoking, mass action. He, after all, considers himself a political ally to, and student of, Fidel Castro. According to Richard Gott's book about Chavez, Castro advised him not to resist any coup attempt in April 2002, not to sacrifice his life - he was too important. Far better to allow the coup, as 'this does not end here'. That, again, is exemplary substitutionism, and quite predictable coming from a dictator who professes socialism yet prefers the working class to shut their yaps and pimp their kids out to rich tourists (Gary Glitter, it is you I speak of).
Today, David Harvey and Alex Callinicos had a meeting on The New Imperialism, which is the title of Harvey's most recent book. I was very impressed by Harvey's arguments, and gratified to note that Callinicos simply prefaced his contribution by saying "I agree with everything he's just said" - I think a tendency in the old days would have been to locate some totemic disagreement and pick away at it from time to time, although I could be fabulating. What Harvey said was very simple: the United States has from day one tried to be an imperial power, manifest both in its actions and in the quasi-predestinarian ideologies of Manifest Destiny. In the pursuit of this, it initially tried traditional colonial means. For instance, the colonisation of the Phillipines at the start of the century, and the attempt in the 1920s to take Nicaragua. In the Phillipines, they had no difficulties besides having to kill a few tens of thousands of natives, before handing the country over to a junta dominated by hacienda owners. In Nicaragua, they found themselves getting bogged down in a guerilla war against rural rebels, and so they concocted what turned out to be a much more effective means of projecting power over long distances. Basically, they assassinated the Liberal leader Augusto Sandino (hence, Sandinistas), and created a National Guard, which a handsome young Anastasio Somoza (formerly a careerist with the Liberals) was placed in charge of. He took control of the country in 1936, and inaugurated a dynasty that was to rule in the most brutal and corrupt manner until 1979.
This was a template that the US could apply to the world. In the first half of the 20th Century, the US applied the Monroe Doctrine in what it regarded as its hemisphere, while relying on the still mighty British to subdue hostile forces in Eurasia. Following the Second World War, with the red zones of the British Empire receding, the US reconstituted a precarious European capitalism through Marshall Plan aid (unlike those dusky nations, not a cent was ever paid back by whitey, and no one ever asked for it). It also set up some global institutions, which were adapted and meddled with over time, including the UN (which was founded under the direction of Leo Pavolsky, much to the chagrin of the disdainful Dean Acheson).
The US dominated in production, developed a bedazzling cultural hegemony that initially seduced both Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh, and deployed its forces to aggressively enlarge its 'sphere of influence'. By the 1970s, Nemesis arrived: as Vietnam became a synonym for 'quagmire', and recession bolted out of the not-quite-blue, a Japanese sun rose over Detroit. The US ceased to dominate productively, and its cultural mass appeal had taken a knock or two. Failing to dominate in terms of production and technical innovation, the US turned toward the financialisation of the global economy, using the IMF, World Bank and various other mechanisms to open up trade barriers and create opportunities for the profitable deployment of surplus value. However, the increasing mobility of capital that this allowed was traumatic for the United States - waves of deindustrialisation hit the country, beginning with textiles, and ending with the crisis that caused Chrysler to be temporarily nationalised, along with a number of banks. The US was, however, able to benefit from its financial dominance, as well as patenting and licensing laws, and the repatriation of profit from offshore production, which alleviated some of the effects of deindustrialisation back home. Meanwhile, debt crises and economic catastrophe for many newly industrialising countries was a boon for the United States. If debt could not be repaid, this was a means by which an economy could be 'restructured' to enable access to resources for US capital. Similarly, when the South East Asian financial collapse occured, the currencies collapsed, and there was a general flight to the dollar: thus creating unemployment and misery on one end of the world, and extraordinary benefits for an affluent middle class on the other.
The Dollar Wall-Street Regime, as Peter Gowan has baptised it, has had its own run of difficulties of late, which would have been perhaps even more entrenched had it not been for 9/11, and the extraordinary nationalist revival as well as the reflation of a despised Republican Party whose executive had a propensity for authoritarian statism. Similarly, the US is now an imperial power in a multipolar world without hegemony. It can no longer rely on 'soft-power'. It will try to maintain Europe under the coercive umbrella of Natoism, which is why NATO has been placed in charge of Afghanistan, and UK troops are being shipped from Iraq to take care of operations in the South Asian protectorate - for the first time since Dr Watson had his arms bandaged.
But the US is in a dangerous predicament. It has to demonstrate its power more and more - just as it wiped out Hiroshima in a terrifying display of technological prowess, so it used 'shock and awe' from 30,000 feet to send a message to the world. The chief recipient of the first message was the USSR; the main receptacle for "shock n awe" is China. Harvey suggested that one of the reasons Rumsfeld was moaning about the lack of good targets in Afghanistan, and pushing an Iraqi venture instead, was that a display of military might would not look so good if you were pounding one of the poorest countries in the world, with the least entrenched state in the world.
And China is a real problem for the United States. On the one hand, US corporations love it. Wal Mart would not exist if it weren't for Chinese slave labour - *cough* - I mean, 'market reforms' and 'liberalisation'. The same can be said for many US corporations. On the other hand, there is a real risk of China expanding to such an extent that it actually represents a substantial threat to US interests. One anecdote that summarised this predicament turned on evidence given by Condoleeza Rice to the 9/11 investigators: she had said that one reason she hadn't been obsessed with terrorism was that China had downed a US spy plane, and there was a serious prospect of the US going to war with China (which sort of defeats the proposition, advanced by thinkers as different as Antonio Negri and Leo Panitch, that there can no longer be serious rivalries among advanced capitalist powers). It was, apparently, the decisive intervention of Wal Mart that prevented any escalation of hostilities.
The consequences are various: according to Zbigniew Brzezinski, US imperialism needs a united European handmaiden or junior partner, as it cannot fight alone (which is why so many 'realists' were disappointed by the EU referendum results); it also needs to demonstrate its power - using, as the Project for the New American Century put it, this "window of opportunity" to extend US influence and deter the rise of a major opposing superpower; but it is weak, and so fissures can be opened up which will weaken it further still and eventually defeat it and what it represents.
Samir Amin, the great Egyptian economist, a man whom I admire immensely, and the author of many great books on Eurocentrism, liberalism, and obsolescent capitalism, made a very interesting suggestion from the floor. He had been reading the text-books absorbed by American business school students, and found a very strange fact: whereas previously, a large corporation needed a customer base of 100 million, they now needed a minimum base of 600 million. This meant that national capitalisms could no longer be self-sufficient, if they ever were. Economies had 'globalised', whether they liked it or not. This meant that to some extent there remained an overlap of interest between the advanced capitalist economies. I think this may explain in part why even relatively 'independent' countries like France and Germany eventually bit the bullet - even if they didn't swallow it - over Iraq. The discourse of globalisation is, aside from being largely portentous shite, totally incapable of accounting for this situation. But this development does conform slightly to one of the expectations of 'globalisation' theorists: namely that nation-states are, whatever their own particular logics and proclivities, being eroded by processes beyond their control.