Fourth International, Capitalist globalization, imperialisms, geopolitical chaos and their implications (excerpts)
II. Chronic geopolitical instability
Second observation, capitalist globalization has not given birth to a stable international “new order”, quite the contrary.
There is a dominant imperialist bloc that can be called the “Atlantic bloc” – because it is structured around the axis of the North America / European Union -, if we give this term a geo-strategic and not a geographic sense; it includes in fact Australia, New Zealand and Japan. This is a hierarchical block, under US hegemony. NATO is the privileged, permanent armed wing. Its deployment at the European border of the Russian sphere of influence shows that its original function has not lost its relevance, as the border has again become a conflict zone.
NATO now is ready to act beyond the transatlantic theatre. The crisis in the Middle East, however, shows that NATO is not an operational framework capable of easily imposing its rule everywhere. The military contribution of its European members remains marginal. Tensions are high with its regional pillar, Turkey. Alliances of variable geometry have been forged to suit each theatre with regimes opposed to each other such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Inter-imperialist competition has revived. On the geopolitical level the newcomer China is demanding to enter the top league. Russia intervenes in its enlarged zone of influence (Syria). The Japanese government is trying to reduce its military dependence on the US and to free itself from the pacifist clauses of the Japanese Constitution. Economically, competition is intense, the freedom of movement granted to capital even making it possible for “sub-imperialisms” to enter the lists beyond their regional spheres. Ideologically, the ruling classes are facing a crisis of legitimacy, and often, important institutional malfunctions. – they are losing control of the electoral process in key countries like the USA (Trump’s victory in the republican primaries) and the United Kingdom (the Brexit victory).The state of war is permanent. The global ecological crisis is already strongly felt. In various parts of the world, the social fabric is disintegrating. Humanitarian disasters and forced movements of population have reached a level not seen since the Second World War.
The peoples are paying an exorbitant price for the imposition of the new neoliberal order. The current chronic crisis has multiple causes.
• The imperialist states still have the role of ensuring favourable conditions for the accumulation of capital, but the global capital operates more independently from them than in the past. This separation has helped to make porous or dissolve the former “private hunting grounds”, the areas of almost exclusive influence of traditional imperialism in the world (apart to a large extent in Latin America?). The high mobility of capital has had devastating effects on social equilibrium, undermining state action.
Capitalist globalization, financialization, the increasing internationalization of production lines have also reduced the capacity of governments to implement economic policies.
• The unprecedented level of financialization, the development of fictitious capital, which is inherent in modern capitalism, has taken on considerable proportions in recent years. Without the link being broken, it is leading to a higher degree of dissociation of fictitious capital from productive processes, while the link between initial borrower and initial lender becomes distended. Financialization has sustained capitalist growth, but its overdevelopment accentuates the contradictions of this growth.
• The debt system now operates in both North and South. It is a key instrument of the dictatorship exercised by corporate capital and plays a directly political role, as the case of Greece confirms, in imposing the maintenance of the neoliberal order. Together with the free trade agreements, it blocks a national government implementing alternative policies to get out of the social crisis.
• A real “currency war” (currency) is engaged; it is an aspect of inter-imperialist conflicts, the use of currency defining areas of control.
• The geopolitical alliances were yesterday “fixed” by the East-West conflict on the one hand and the Sino-Soviet conflict on the other (which explains, for example, in South Asia, the India-Russia axis versus the US-Pakistan-China one); they have once again become more fluid and uncertain. Latin American regimes tried for a time to loosen the straightjacket imposed by Washington.
• Inter-imperialist rivalries are feeding a new spiral in the arms race, including nuclear weapons that countries like the US and France seek to “modernize”, that is to say to make operational and politically acceptable as part of localized conflicts.
• At first, after the implosion of the USSR, the bourgeoisie and the (traditional) imperialist states had a very conquering attitude: penetration of Eastern markets, interventions in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) ... Then they became bogged down militarily and there was the financial crisis, the emergence of new powers, the Arab revolutions ... all leading to a loss of geopolitical initiative and control: Washington today acts more by reacting to emergencies than by planning to impose its order.
• In this context, the role of sub-imperialist and regional powers becomes important: Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Algeria ... South Africa, Brazil, India, South Korea ... Although in a subordinate position in the global system of domination under US hegemony, they play their own game, in addition to being regional gendarmes (like Brazil in Haiti).
One of the questions that is posed to us by the evolution of the international situation is the link between the post-1989 turning-point (conquering imperialism) and the one that took shape in the mid-2000s (geopolitical instability).
From this point of view, the financial crisis of 2007-2008 was a real turning point. Bringing up to date the contradictions inherent in capitalist globalization, it has had major consequences that are both political (delegitimization of the system of domination) and social (very brutal in countries directly affected) and structural - including the explosion of debts. It is the background of the great democratic movements that emerged a few years later (the occupation of places), but also reactionary openly antidemocratic developments such as in Thailand: White shirts, nourished by the great ’fear of the middle class.
Combined with the ecological crisis and the massive displacement of populations, the structural instability of the global order creates new forms of poverty (see eg the Philippines), which require the progressive organizations to implement appropriate policies.
III. Globalization and crisis of governability
The imperialist bourgeoisies wanted to take advantage of the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the opening up of China to capitalism to create a global market with uniform rules, allowing them to deploy their capital at will. The consequences of capitalist globalization could only be very profound – multiplied moreover by developments that, in their euphoria, these imperialist bourgeoisies had not wanted to foresee.
This project involved in fact:
• Depriving elected institutions (parliaments, governments ...) of decision-making power on key choices and requiring them to incorporate into their legislation measures decided elsewhere: by the WTO, international free trade treaties, etc. It thus dealt a blow to classical bourgeois democracy – which is transcribed on the ideological level by the reference to “governance” instead of democracy.
• Making illegal, in the name of the preeminent right of “competition”, the “appropriate methods” of bourgeois rule, flowing from the specific history of countries and regions (historic compromise of the European kind, the Latin American kind of populism, state dirigisme of the Asian kind, many kinds of redistributive clientelism...). In fact, all of these forms erect modulated relations with the world market, and thus barriers to the free deployment of imperialist capital.
• Subordinating common law to the rights of businesses, to whom governments should guarantee the profits expected when investing, against the right of the population to health, a healthy environment, a non-precarious life. This is one of the major challenges of the new generation of free trade treaties that complete the overall system formed major international institutions like the WTO, IMF, the World Bank.
• An endless spiral of destruction of social rights. The traditional imperialist bourgeoisies have really taken the measure of the weakening and the crisis of the labour movement in the so-called “centre”. In the name of “competitiveness” on the world market, they are taking the opportunity to conduct a systematic ongoing offensive to destroy the collective rights that were conquered, particularly during the period that followed the Second World War. They do not aim to impose a new “social contract” that is more favourable to them, but want to do away with such agreements and to get their hands on all the potentially profitable sectors which, because they were public services, escaped them: health, education, pension systems, transport, etc.
• A modification of the role assigned to national states and of the relationship between imperialist capital and territory. With few exceptions, governments are no longer co-drivers of large-scale industrial projects or of the development of social infrastructure (education, health ...). Although they continue to support throughout the world “their” transnational corporations, the latter (given their power and internationalization) do not feel as dependent on their country of origin as they did in the past: the relationship is more “asymmetric” than ever... The role of the state, always essential, is contracting: contributing to establishing the rules universalizing the mobility of capital, opening up the entire public sector to the appetites of capital, contributing to the destruction of social rights and keeping its population in line.
• So we are dealing with two hierarchical systems that are structuring the relations of world domination. The hierarchy of the imperialist states, already complex, as we have noted (point I) and the hierarchies of the large capital flows that encompass the planet in the form of networks. These two systems no longer overlap, even though the states are at the service of the second.
Capitalist globalization represents a new global mode of class rule, unfinished and structurally unstable. It leads in fact to open crises of legitimacy and of ungovernability in many countries and in entire regions; to a state of permanent crisis. The supposed centres of regulation on a world scale (the WTO, the UN Security Council ...) are unable to fulfill their role effectively.
A class does not permanently rule over a society without mediations and social compromises; without sources of legitimacy, whether their origin be historical, democratic, social, revolutionary... The imperialist bourgeoisies are liquidating centuries of “know-how” in this field in the name of the free movement of capital, while the aggressiveness of neoliberal policies is destroying the social fabric in a growing number of countries. The fact that, in a Western country like Greece, much of the population is deprived of access to health care and services, says a great deal about the uncompromising line of the European bourgeoisie.
At the time when there were empires, it was necessary to ensure the stability of colonial possessions – as well as (although to a lesser extent) that of the spheres of influence during the Cold War. Let us say that today, because of mobility and financialization, it depends on the time and the place... Thus, entire regions may enter into chronic crisis under the blows of globalization. The implementation of neoliberal diktats by worn-out dictatorial regimes provoked popular uprisings in the Arab world and vast mobilizations in Africa, open regime crises and violent counter-revolutionary ripostes, leading to acute instability.
The particularity of globalized capitalism is that it seems to accommodate itself to crisis as a permanent state of affairs: crisis becomes consubstantial with the normal functioning of the new global system of domination. If this is really the case, we must profoundly change our view of “crisis” as a particular moment between long periods of “normality” – and we have not finished measuring, and suffering, the consequences of this. [...]