Imperialism’s new world order
In 1990, Bush Senior announced the dawn of a “New World Order”. What he was really announcing was that, following the defeat of Russian imperialism, the US would now create its own new world order. The old division of the world into two opposing imperialist blocs, that had been the result of World War II, had now ended and a new division of the world was to be carried out, a division in which the interests of US imperialism were to reign supreme.
Some thinkers amongst the US ruling class imagined the victory over its Russian rival was an historic triumph of capitalism over communism. Some went even further and announced that this victory represented the “end of history,” and that mankind’s intellectual evolution was now at an end. (1)
All this is, of course, complete nonsense and is a measure of the feeble intellectual quality of the apologists of capitalism. The victory of US imperialism over its Russian rival represented the victory of one way of organising capitalism over another. The “monopoly capitalism” of the western bloc proved itself more dynamic and able to adjust to the economic crisis than the “State Capitalism” of its Russian enemy. Capitalism had not triumphed over communism, capitalism had reorganised itself globally. This reorganisation had solved none of capitalism’s problems. Just as previously capitalist competition had led to imperialism and imperialist blocs, so in the new arrangement capitalist competition immediately started to lead to rivalry and the building of new imperialist blocs. Only the elimination of the material basis for imperialism, namely, the capitalism as system of production, can bring about the elimination of imperialism. It is only with the elimination of capitalism that we can consider the end of a historical period has occurred. (2)
In the period following the collapse of the Russian bloc and removal of the common enemy, competition and rivalry between those powers which had previously been united inside the United States bloc assumed ever greater proportions and began to tear the bloc apart. New imperialist centres in Europe and South East Asia began to challenge the leadership of the US. Although both Japan and China are starting to oppose United States hegemony in their areas, the most obvious area in which the American’s junior partners are combining to form an anti-US bloc is Europe. Greater European unity was an inevitable result of the disintegration of the Russian bloc and something the US was unable to prevent. The reunification of Germany and reorientation of the economies of the ex-Comecon countries towards the EU occurred within a few years of the Russian collapse. Now, a decade later, the EU plans to incorporate seven countries from the former Russian bloc and one of the former republics of Yugoslavia into its ranks in 2004. While the EU has expanded geographically, it has strengthened its internal structures and internal unity. Its highest achievement in this direction has been the single currency and the European central bank. Meanwhile, the EU administrative centre, Brussels, has become the principal defender of European capital. It is its spokesman and negotiator at the World Trade Organisation and in trade disputes with the US and polices competition. On the military level, plans to create a European military force are already underway; a force which will constitute the military arm of European imperialism. Within the last month, plans for a European constitution and a European executive president have been placed on the table. All these moves represent a clear threat to the power and hegemony of the United States, and although the process of solidification of the European bloc is slow and hesitant, the direction in which it is moving is unmistakable.
Since the break up of the Russian bloc, the US has, of course, tried to prevent its ex-allies from becoming a significant threat to its power. It has tried to keep its rivals divided by exploiting differences between them and trying to retain its position as final arbiter in all disputes. US intervention in Yugoslavia, for example, ensured that a section of the ex-federation remained dependent on it and that it retained a large military base there in order to check EU ambitions in the area. It has also used its UK ally to undermine EU opposition to its imperialist plans. The latest example of this is in regard to the next Iraq war. In the east it has ensured that the disputes over Korea and Taiwan continue while it continues to undermine local efforts to resolve these issues and achieve greater regional unity.
The US has used its economic and military power to extend its control of strategic areas where it was previously held in check by the Soviet bloc. In particular this has occurred in the Middle East, the Caucasus region and in Central Asia. Control of these areas gives the US control of strategic resources such as oil. The US has made great gains at the expense of its rivals in all the areas outside the European heartlands. Much of the US advance, as in Afghanistan, has been made by use of its massive military power. The US has extended its military lead over all other powers and intends to maintain that lead, if necessary by force. It is also significant that the US is making its plans for a post NATO situation. Its contempt for the old alliance is becoming more apparent with each fresh crisis. Despite the invocation, by the alliance, of the famous clause 5 in regard to the 11th September attacks, the US did not even reply to NATO’s offers of help in the Afghan campaign. The recent extension of NATO to the borders of Russia conceals its weakness and basic irrelevance in the post Russian bloc period. For the US these countries will simply provide facilities which the US will itself use in future wars. In the longer term even this will not be sustainable and the alliance will collapse.
The increasing aggressiveness of American imperialism is a response to the worsening economic crisis and the challenges it is now facing. There is now a more pressing need for the US to force its clients to comply with its demands because of its more critical situation. From its position as sole superpower it is able to do this militarily and is doing so. However, the more the US occupies strategic areas and threatens its rivals the more they will resist. In the longer term, this must lead to rearmament of the US rivals and direct imperialist confrontation.
Iraq crisis reveals weakness of America’s rivals
The present crisis over war with Iraq has revealed the weakness of the US rivals. (This is discussed in greater detail in the text “Countdown to War with Iraq” in this edition.) The Europeans have proved hopelessly divided with France and Germany opposing American war plans while the UK supported them. Other rivals such as China and Russia are not prepared to risk real opposition to the US over this issue. None of these powers was prepared to give an anti-US lead which other powers could have followed. The best the US rivals could do was to delay the US plans and passively oppose them in the UN. They hope, however, that they will be able to avoid participation in the Iraq war and be able to gain from the US mistakes which they confidently expect. They also intend to avoid paying for this war in the way they were forced to do for the Gulf War.(3)
For the US this is a bold move and a risky one. It could lead to miscalculations and unexpected repercussions to American actions. The fact that the US bourgeoisie is prepared to take such a risk is an indication of the depth of its economic crisis.
ICC and the New World Order
As we have outlined above the collapse of the Russian bloc ushered in a new period in which fresh centres of imperialism raised their heads and new imperialist blocs started to form. The collapse of the old blocs was a prelude to, and an integral part of, the building of new ones. These blocs are still far from being complete, but the present period remains a period of their construction. The minor wars we are seeing today are serving to define and build the future imperialist alliances.
For the International Communist Current (ICC) the period which followed the collapse of the Russian bloc is one of general decomposition of capitalism. This decomposition springs from capitalist decadence and is a force stronger than all other forces acting in this period. For them the present period is a Hobbesian state of nature where there is “war of every man against every man”. In the ICC’s words it is a period of “every man for himself”. (4)
This tendency to decomposition is producing chaos which the bourgeoisie is unable to control and which represents the ultimate period of capitalist decadence. The period is therefore one which will usher in the revolutionary period.
We have previously criticised the ICC’s theory of decomposition and chaos for its idealistic basis and its rupture with the Marxist method of analysis. (5)
The ICC has failed to show how this tendency of decomposition springs from specific economic problems which capitalism faces today and how it derives the irresistible power they attribute to it. Instead it appears like the God of the Old Testament, an explanation for everything but really an explanation for nothing. Events are no longer understood in the historical and social context and they become essentially meaningless. All phenomena become expressions of this tendency, thus the Gulf War, the Balkan Wars, the Chechen wars, India and Pakistan’s confrontation over Kashmir, Afghanistan, Al Qa’eda, the new Iraq war, all these result from the tendency to decomposition and chaos.
Decomposition and recomposition
The tendency towards decomposition, which the ICC’s apocalyptic vision detects everywhere, would indeed imply capitalist society were on the brink of breakdown if it were true. However, this is not the case and if the ICC were to examine the phenomena of contemporary society more dialectically this would be apparent. While, on the one hand, old structures are collapsing, new ones are arising. Germany, for example, could not be reunited without the collapse of German Democratic Republic and the collapse of the Russian bloc. The countries of Comecon could not join the EU without the dissolution of Comecon, etc. The process of collapse is at the same time one of reconstruction, decomposition is part of the process of re-composition. While the ICC does recognise that there is a tendency towards re-composition, they regard it as insignificant in the face of the predominant tendency towards decomposition and chaos. As mentioned above the ICC has failed to demonstrate how this tendency springs from the capitalist infrastructure. The difficulty it faces in doing this, springs from the fact that it is the tendency towards re-composition which springs from the forces of the capitalist infrastructure. In particular the continuing economic crisis, derived from reduced profitability of capital, is forcing weaker capitals into trading blocs, and these trading blocs are the skeletons on which future imperialist blocs are being built. These capitals realise their only hope of survival is in unity which can increase the size, efficiency and scale of operation of capital to the degree which is required for restoring profitability. Political structures required to oversee this necessarily follow as will military ones for its protection.
Al Qa’eda and US imperialism
For the ICC Al Qa’eda similarly represents the tendency towards decomposition. This conclusion shows again how phenomena are removed from their social and historical context. Al Qa’eda could not have existed in its present form in the imperialist division of the world which was in force before 1990. In this period it would have expressed the interests of one or other of the imperialist blocs or remained irrelevant. In fact, an earlier incarnation of Al Qa’edadid exist in this period and it was the tool of US imperialism, which funded and armed it through its allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The fact that Al Qa’eda can operate today in its present freelancing form of existence, like a hound which
has slipped its leash, is precisely the result of the lack of developed imperialist blocs opposing the US. If such blocs existed it would gravitate to one of them or be destroyed. It is therefore an outcome of a specific historical situation where imperialist blocs are in the process of being reconstructed. Despite its hopeless lack of understanding of present day capitalism, the movement represents an attempt to erect an independent Middle Eastern imperialism based on Islam and the territories of the Ummayyad Empire of the 8th century. It is not simply a movement expressing decomposition and chaos.
The ICC also sees contemporary developments as expressing the weakness of the US. This is supposedly manifested by the US’s occupation of territories and its use of force to compel its clients to carry out its wishes, which they see as similar to the occupation of eastern Europe by the USSR. (6)
This, for the ICC, is another expression of decomposition. Contrary to the ICC’s assertions, the ability of the US to unleash wars and occupy countries at will, expresses its strength with respect to its rivals. Today the US has military bases in over 40 separate countries, maintains naval fleets in every ocean in the world and is able to strike anywhere on the planet at short notice. It is able to occupy Afghanistan precisely because there is no rival superpower to do what it did to the Russians when they occupied Afghanistan or what the Russians did to the US when they occupied Vietnam. In the present period it does not need to fear fresh Vietnams and so it feels free to occupy and reshape vast areas of the world in a way it would never have dared to do in the period before 1990. These events demonstrate the US extending and reinforcing and reconstituting its bloc, rather than the decomposition seen by the ICC. They express the “New World Order” promised by Bush Senior.CP
(1) See Frances Fukuyama, The End of History. Fukuyama was employed by the US state department and also on the Rand Corporation’s think tank. He is what Marx called a “paid prize fighter of the bourgeoisie.”
(2) The chatter about the end of history is actually a crude parody of Marx’s prediction that the end of capitalist society would represent the end of human pre-history and mankind’s real history would then begin.
(3) It has been estimated that an Iraqi war and subsequent occupation could cost between $75bn and $500bn. Estimate by Yale Professor Nordhaus, The Guardian, 16/11/2002.
(4) See International Review 111 “Plunge into military barbarism”. (The ICC in Britain publishes International Review and World Revolution. They can be contacted at: BM Box 869, London WC1N 3XX, Great Britain.)
(5) See Internationalist Communist 21 “Workers struggles in Argentina” and RP 24 “ICC and War”.
(6) See World Revolution 258 “Difficulties facing US imperialism”.
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