The Politics of Empire: Globalisation in Crisis

2004-10-18

Richard Moore

--------------------------------------------------------
From: William Bowles <•••@••.•••>
Subject: The Politics of Empire: Globalisation in Crisis
Date: 06/10/2004

http://www.williambowles.info/ini/ini-0275.html
   
Book review:  The Politics of Empire: Globalisation in Crisis,
edited by Alan Freeman and Boris Kargarlitsky

"The US war drive, going well beyond what it is now doing in
Iraq, up to and including its clear and announced intention to
deploy nuclear weapons, is not the deluded fantasy of a
Strangelove but a considered and well prepared response to the
emerging new world situation. It is part of a concerted
strategic drive to ensure that whatever the international
institutions fail to deliver by jaw, the Pentagon can secure
by war.

"But for this very reason, it is not a product of strength but
of weakness: it has come about because globalisation has
failed to secure territorial governments that can impose the
policies on which the US's existence depends. With the failure
of consent, the curtain falls on the age of globalisation, and
opens on the age of war."From the Introduction.

If you want to know what I think about the Bush/Kerry 'lesser
of two evils' debate then I think the quote above answers the
question, for regardless of who gets elected, the issues are
far bigger than the election, hence although the details may
vary depending on whether it's Bush or Kerry who is the next
president, the underlying crisis of US capital determines the
direction of US actions, a position that is unlikely to change
with a Kerry presidency at least not in the short term.

Reading books written by Marxists/Leftists, especially of the
academic kind is often like pulling teeth, painful and
time-consuming, firstly because of the jargon that tends
toward a private language and often because it has its roots
in a range of 'tendencies' that go back a hundred years that
are mired in sectarian 'positions' of one kind or another. The
net effect unfortunately, is to exclude all but the
'initiated' which seems to be self-defeating given that the
objective is get people 'on-board' the socialist train. For
the most part 'The Politics of Empire' avoids the worst
excesses of jargon, although some knowledge of a Marxist
approach to the economics of capitalism is needed in order to
make full use of this exploration.

On the other hand, no pain, no gain. Anything worthwhile is
worth investing some energy into understanding, especially
something as important as the future of our species.

The Politics of Empire: Globalisation in Crisis seeks to
unpack the current situation by revisiting an area pretty well
neglected since well before the end of the Soviet Union,
namely the nature of capitalism, specifically an
interpretation described by Lenin as "imperialism - the
highest stage of capitalism"almost one hundred years ago. The
editors go one step further and reinforce a view often put
forward here that the seventy years of the Soviet Union was
something of a 'temporary diversion' (my words, not theirs)
from the imperialist project that with the dissolution of the
USSR, the leading capitalist states could continue once more
with extending the market to every part of the globe, a
project now called 'globalisation'.

The problem as the contributors put it is that 'globalisation'
has failed abysmally to solve the inherent contradictions of
capitalism even as it now has no major obstacles in its goal
of extending the market to every area of the world and with
this failure it has returned to its 'roots' as it were, namely
the use of unrestricted war to further its political and
economic objectives. This after a period following WWII when
in order to defeat Communism, it was necessary for the
'traditional' competition between capitalist states to be
suspended, even if now led by the US instead of the (former)
European colonial, imperialist empires.

Is the current period then a continuation of imperialism
albeit with a 'new face'? A period that began in 1873, that
was 'interrupted' in 1917 and then pursued once more following
the defeat of the socialist project at the beginning of the
1990s. All the contributors to this volume loosely subscribe
to this interpretation, indeed it signals a return as it were
to our collective roots, especially those of Marx, Lenin and
Rosa Luxemberg, the brilliant German revolutionary thinker and
activist. In fact, as I've commented myself, many of the
contributors voice the view that Marx is even more relevant
now than ever.

The failure of 'globalisation' is signified by the fundamental
contradictions of capitalism that is, as before, one of
serious over-production/over-capacity, and the failure to
produce growth that the enforcement of 'structural adjustment'
on the poor countries of the world was meant we are told, to
achieve. In fact, the contributors show quite conclusively
that with notable exceptions, 'structural adjustment' has
resulted in the stagnation of growth and a vast increase in
poverty. It has also led to resistance albeit with mixed
results and devoid of a common revolutionary theme.

The promise (read propaganda) that 'globalisation' would
'solve' the problems of the world's poor has therefore not
materialised. To the contrary, 'globalisation' itself is
responsible not only for the increasing poverty that something
like 80% of the world's population is experiencing that in
turn has resulted in the widespread resistance to the
predations of global capital. In other words it is
globalisation itself that has created the current instability
euphemistically referred to as 'terrorism'. One can go further
and define 'terrorism' as a result of the failure of the
governments of most of the developing countries to mount an
effective defence against the predations of international
capital through the policies of the IMF and the World Bank.
'Terrorism' then is the 'politics of desperation' insofar as
it reflects the weakness of international bodies such as the
Non-Aligned Movement to defend the interests of the poor of
the world. In turn, this has led to the emergence of entirely
new structures of resistance.

For myself, two, possibly three sections stand out as making a
very valuable contribution, mostly I'll admit because they
tend to reinforce my own interpretations but also because it
lets me know I'm not alone. Firstly, Bill Robinson's 'The
Crisis of Global Capitalism: How it looks from Latin America'
contains the most original thinking especially his definitions
of globalisation. So what are the major features of this
allegedly newly globalised economy?

"Globalisation [is] a fourth epoch in world capitalismŠmarked
by a number of shifts in the capitalist systemŠ One of these
is the rise of truly transnational capital Š Another feature
of global capitalism is the rise of a transnational capitalist
class (TCC), a fraction grounded in global markets and
circuits of accumulation over national markets and circuits.
Transnational class formation also entails the rise of a
global proletariat. Capital and labour increasingly confront
each other as global classes. A third is the rise of a
transnational state (TNS) apparatus, a loose but increasingly
coherent network comprised of supranational political and
economic institutions and national state apparatuses that have
been penetrated and transformed by transnational forces."(p.
156)

Robinson goes on to say:

"The nation-state may be around for a long time to come but
the nation-state system is no longer the organising principle
of capitalism. Nation states as components of a larger TNS
structure now tend to serve the interests of global above
national accumulation processes. The TNS has played a key role
in imposing the neoliberal model on the old Third World and
therefore in reinforcing the new capital-labour relationŠ A
fourth shift, accordingly, is from nation-state to
transnational hegemony ."(pps.156-57)

Perhaps the most important aspect of Robinson's thesis is the
following observation:

"In contrast to the predominant story-line of a resurgent US
empire, I suggest that empire in the twenty-first century is
not about a particular nation-state but about an ascendant
empire of global capital. This empire is headquartered in
Washington. But this does not mean that US imperial behaviour
seeks to defend 'US' interests. As the most powerful component
of the TNS, the US state apparatus defends the interests of
transnational investors and the overall systemŠ The only
military apparatus in the world capable of exercising global
coercive authority is the US military."(p.157)

Another important aspect of this emerging "fourth epoch"of
capitalism is:

"[The] novel relations of inequality in global society.
Unequal exchanges - material, political, cultural - are not
captured so much in the old concept of the international
division of labour as the global division of labourŠ
Globalisation renders untenable a sociology of national
development since it undermines the ability of national states
to capture and redirect surpluses through interventionist
mechanisms that were viable in the nation-state phase of
capitalism."(p.157)

"Transnationality is a social category and development should
not be seen in terms of nations but in terms of social groups
in a transnational setting."(p.158)

And here we see another aspect of the post-Soviet world we now
inhabit, the emergence of a global capitalist class that has
members in both the developed and now the developing world
with those in the developing countries no longer what used to
be called a comprador class dependent upon a local economy but
on their direct connection to trans-national capital. This
newly formed capitalist class does not depend on local social
classes for 'sustenance'. Bill Robinson puts it as follows:

"The model of capitalist development by insertion into new
global circuits of accumulation does not require an
inclusionary social base. Socio-economic exclusion is immanent
to the model since accumulation does not depend on a domestic
market or internal social reproduction. Š "The physical
existence of these groups in a particular territory is less
important than their deterritorialised class-relational
existence in the global capitalist system."(pps. 175, 180)

But counter-posed to this new development has been the failure
of the WTO to enforce the dictates of international capital,
witness Cancun and other meetings of the WTO where through
concerted actions led by countries such as Brazil, India and
South Africa, the plans of the advanced economies to enforce
its trade rules on the poor countries were soundly rejected.

Ultimately, as I've noted before, the key moment was the
dissolution of the Soviet Union, that regardless of what one
thinks about its internal policies, its mere existence acted
as a 'shield' for the poor economies of the world that once
removed, enabled the capitalist world, led by its most
powerful force the US, to extend its reach over the entire
planet. What is meant by shield is that that more than one
third of the planet's population were protected from the
predations of the market as broadly these were countries that
had followed protectionist economic policies and, as John
Freeman notes in his section, 'The Inequality of Nations',
following the fall of the Soviet Union the only countries not
to suffer the Asian economic crash of 1997 were those that had
protected themselves from the IMF/World Bank's 'structural
adjustment' policy, China, India, Malaysia and Vietnam. For
'structural adjustment' was in reality, an opening up of
developing countries' economies to the full force of the
market, a market dominated by the developed economies of the
world.

The common thread/s are obviously an exploration of the nature
of 'globalisation' and its possible outcomes. One writer,
Sungar Savran in his section, 'Globalisation and the New World
Order: The New Dynamics of Imperialism and War' aside from
being understandably very angry about events, takes what might
be called a traditional view of imperialism and questions
whether there is in fact such a thing as 'globalisation'.
Furthermore, in contradistinction to the section by Bill
Robinson, questions whether there is a new 'post-nation state'
environment within which the struggle is now or will shortly,
take place. These are important questions as they go to the
very heart of the current situation facing the Left namely, is
the situation now so different that the strategies and
analyses of the past are no longer valid?

And the future? Patrick Bond puts his faith broadly in the
'global justice movements' but with some caveats. In his
section, aptly named 'Facing Global Apartheid' and under the
heading 'Next Steps: Toward a Fifth International' he offers
us the following:

"The rise of the global justice movements as the world's
first-ever multi-issue political convergence was profoundly
important, and South Africa has become a site of crucial,
productive conflicts for these movements' developments. The
time may well arise for a formalisation of the movement's
character in explicitly political terms, such as within the
traditions of international socialism - for which the first
four 'internationals' provide a host of lessons, largely
negative, about world-scale co-ordination."(pps. 216-217)

However, he is more circumspect when offering real world
'solutions' and seems somewhat divided over the
nation-state/global movement approach to the immense problems
that confront us. Patrick says in part:

"More generally, the rise of national and regional Social
Forums in most parts of the world bodes well for more
co-ordinated civil society inputs into global governance. My
sense is that nation-state priorities will be seen as
overriding, because the balance of forces at the international
scale simply does not offer progressive social movements any
real scope for satisfying reforms, as efforts on debt, trade,
environment, militarism and so many other examples continually
proveŠ However, all optimistic outcomes depends upon an
obvious prerequisite: the hard work of local, then national,
then regional and finally global-scale organisingŠ Hence in
sum, the approach of the South African social movements -
thinking globally and acting locally first, while changing the
balance of forces nationally and internationally, so that
acting globally might one day generate something meaningful -
is a wise route towards a final attack on global apartheid,
and capitalism itself. Š "No matter the continual reversals,
the opportunities to take up these challenges, and link them
across countries and sectors of struggle, is now greater than
at any time in memory."(p. 219)

I have perforce, merely scratched the surface of this book and
my apologies to the other valuable contributions the book
contains that I haven't mentioned, and I hope I haven't done
the book a disservice as a result, but as regular readers of
my columns know, I try to keep my essays short and hopefully
'sweet', else the sheer volume of words tends to be
self-defeating. If what I've said about 'The Politics of
Empire' is sufficient to get you to buy it, then I've
succeeded as I think for anyone involved or interested in the
workings of our world, especially those who don't have a
'traditional' lefty background, this is an important and
overdue contribution to the 'struggle'.

It contains a diverse range of interpretations of the current
situation that is in and of itself important, as it enables
the reader to measure as it were, one view against another.
Most important of all I think, is the fact that it attempts to
unite two strands of thought, one that has its roots in the
experiences largely derived from the 20th century but now
operating in the 21st that as Bill Robinson puts it:

"Neither 'socialism in one country' nor 'Keynesiam in one
country' can be sustained any longer."

The Politics of Empire: Globalisation in Crisis , edited by
Alan Freeman and Boris Kargarlitsky with contributions from
Walden Bello and Marylou Malig, Jayati Ghosh, Sungar Savran,
Bill Robinson, Patrick Bond, Kate Hudson. Published by Pluto
Press in association with the Transnational Institute, 2004.

Buy it from amazon.co.uk

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Richard Moore (rkm)
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