Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 23, 2015

“Anti-imperialist” schemas versus BRICS reality

Filed under: economics,imperialism/globalization,mechanical anti-imperialism — louisproyect @ 6:47 pm

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Mike Whitney: The dollar is toast. The IMF is toast. The US debt market (US Treasuries) is toast.  The institutions that support US power are crumbling before our very eyes. The BRICS have had enough; enough war, enough Wall Street, enough meddling and hypocrisy and austerity and lecturing. This is farewell.

UJUH: South Africa is pushing two high profile candidates into the top leadership layer of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB).

These two are Tito Mboweni who has been appointed as the Non-Executive Director to the Board of the BRICS New Development Bank and Lesley Maasdorp who has been nominated to become one of four Vice Presidents of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB).

When the World Economic Forum named Maasdorp as a Young Global Leader in 2007, he was already a matured leader. This is after serving the ANC’s economic desk in the pre 1994 era and then graduating into public service. He served as a special advisor to the minister of labour, Tito Mboweni. He then moved to become deputy director in the department of public enterprises where he oversaw major state assets restructuring and privatisation of the time. Maasdorp broke into the top business league in the mid 2000s with positions at different intervals that included; President of Bank of America Merrill Lynch for Southern Africa, Vice Chairman of Barclays Capital and Absa Capital and International Adviser to Goldman Sachs.

Andre Vltchek: “Among the BRICS, there is no place for countries that are siding with the colonialist powers, as there is no place for those nations that are tormenting and sacrificing their own people. For now it is still just an acronym of the countries, its members. But soon, who knows, it may be interpreted as the Broad Revolutionary Internationalist Causeway towards Socialism.”

RT.com: While investors drop Greece like a hot potato Russian and Chinese companies plan to take part in the privatization of Greek state assets, considering them a good investment.

Russia’s leading gas producer Gazprom is considering taking part in the privatization of the Greek gas company DEPA and grid operator DESFA. The Greek Government is currently inviting bids for DEPA, but it plans to keep 34% of DESFA, Reuter reports.

Experts estimate a controlling stake in DEPA would cost about $1.5 billion.

In June 2014, I wrote a commentary on the question of Russian imperialism, making the case that even if it didn’t meet the yardstick established by Lenin in 1914, it was still imperialist in the same sense that Japan was in the 1930s or for that matter Czarist Russia, which colonized nations on its borders. On the other side of the debate, Roger Annis maintained that there are no significant Russian or Chinese banks so how can they be imperialist?

That may be the case but the New Development Bank is projected to be a competitor to the World Bank and a major financier of 3rd world development projects that would supposedly put the interests of the people over profits. Somehow this does not seem to square with Marx’s theory of capitalism but that would not seem to deter people like Mike Whitney and especially Andre Vltchek who views China as following its own rules and not that of a Westerner like Karl Marx: “Only the Western thinkers can define such things as ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’, not Asians, and ‘Chinese socialism’ means nothing to them; it is just a pose, a charade.”

For many BRICS has a totemic quality, as if there could be such a thing as “good capitalism” as opposed to the demonic, mustache-twirling variety found on Wall Street or London’s financial district. I was reminded of that just today when Ron Jacobs forwarded an interview with Thomas Mountain to Marxmail. Mountain turns out to be a former member of Robert Avakian’s cult who retains a soft spot in his heart for China as if the old-time spirit of Maoism lingered on:

Chinese aid has built more schools, hospitals, water and electric infrastructure than all the western governments and the UN combined, and is set to do much more if the present programs that have been announced are implemented. China recognizes that Africa needs educated and skilled personnel to help develop African resources and it is in China’s interest to help make this happen. Again, doing this is a long term investment that will pay off for China, both in good will and in their companies’ bottom lines.

So maybe colonialism is not such a bad thing as long as it has Chinese characteristics? Well, maybe Mountain had the early writings of Karl Marx in mind who thought that the British colonization of India had some benefits: “The political unity of India, more consolidated, and extending farther than it ever did under the Great Moguls, was the first condition of its regeneration. That unity, imposed by the British sword, will now be strengthened and perpetuated by the electric telegraph.” (Of course, years later Marx explicitly renounced these views and equated British rule to grand larceny.)

Is this far-fetched? Comparing China to Victorian England? Not if you read what Nick Turse has to say about the Chinese presence in newly independent South Sudan:

Hungry for energy reserves, minerals, and other raw materials to fuel its domestic growth, China’s Export-Import Bank and other state-controlled entities regularly offer financing for railroads, highways, and other major infrastructure projects, often tied to the use of Chinese companies and workers. In exchange, China expects long-term supplies of needed natural resources. Such relationships have exploded in the new century with its African trade jumping from $10 billion to an estimated $200 billion, which far exceeds that of the United States or any European country. It has now been Africa’s largest trading partner for the last five years and boasts of having struck $400 billion worth of deals in African construction projects which have already yielded almost 1,400 miles of railroad track and nearly 2,200 miles of highways.

A civil war in South Sudan has recently imperiled China’s interests. It was forced to withdraw 300 oil workers when forces hostile to the government threatened them. As an indication of the UN’s willingness to come to the aid of stability whenever the natives get too restless, just as was the case in the Congo in Lumumba’s time, the Blue Helmets are there to “keep the peace”. It is of some significance that China has sent detachments of the PLA to help them out.

For those who like their politics kept simple if not stupid, the whole idea of the BRICS is to counter the power of Wall Street. That being the case, can I make a pitch for being able to handle complexity? Like understanding that Lloyd Blankfein is just fine with BRICS (obviously the two honchos from South Africa with ties to Goldman joining the new BRICS bank serving as all the evidence you should need). Turns out the scumbag-in-chief of Goldman-Sachs went over to China to give his blessing to the New Development Bank at Tsinghua University. You can watch him chatting it up with the dean of the business school here, a chap named Qian Yingyi:

Qian doesn’t seem to understand that the BRICS countries are on a collision course with Western financial interests, at least based on the evidence of the men he has appointed to the business school’s advisory board: Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook, Citigroup Inc.’s Michael Corbat, Blackstone Group’s Steve Schwarzman, Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd Blankfein and Carlyle Group’s co-founder David Rubenstein.

So the obvious question is whether this business about rival hegemonic blocs, with the West being Evil and the BRICS being Good, makes any sense with Goldman-Sachs’s bromance with someone like Qian Yingyi. Of course, we should never forget that it was a Goldman-Sachs big-shot who first got gung-ho on this development, even coining the term BRIC (before South Africa was added.) Jim O’Neill wrote “Building Better Global Economic BRICs” in 2001. It is mostly a call for figuring out how to make money in emerging markets and contains none of the hysterical warnings about how Wall Street is threatened by a new white-horse riding hegemon.

One of the interesting theoretical questions that arises out of all this is whether the old understanding of imperialist rivalry based on 1914 and 1940 make much sense in understanding today’s world. I would offer this as a potential research topic. WWI and WWII were ignited by rival nationalist agendas in line with defending capitalist industry. Protectionism via tariffs was the name of the game.

But over the past 30 years or so, capital is much less interested in building walls around local industry, as the hollowed out shells of Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh would indicate.

In a brief chat with Patrick Bond at the Rosa Luxemburg conference in NYC this weekend, I raised the question of whether Lenin’s much-heralded book on imperialism is that useful in understanding today’s world. He suggested that Rosa Luxemburg’s writings are more relevant in many ways. Hmmm. Given her affinity with David Harvey’s analysis, which places an emphasis on capital’s ability to take flight and move wherever a profit can be made, that’s something that makes a lot of fucking sense.

23 Comments »

  1. Been reading histories of the left on here for a month or so, first comment. I think this post does a really excellent job of discrediting BRICS-salvation myths, which has to be done. A few months ago I got frustrated with the repetitious choruses of Mike Whitney and Pepe Escobar that BRICS was going to save the world and that they were really challenging the financial order of the BIS and IMF. So I searched Goldman Sachs + China and found a little video of Blankfein talking about “the Chinese century.” Any illusions that some portion of the globe was uncontacted by the Masters of the Universe fell apart.

    Here’s how I’m trying to sort this out. On one level reality, the spectacle of rival blocs is a strategy by global capitalists. The austerity and dispossession taking place within national borders are administered by military autocracies (of varying levels of “democracy”) that require enemies for justification. So this goes on and is manipulated on all sides by the MOTU. Goldman et al. and the BIS and the whole central bank network being the supranational governance structure of the global ruling class.

    But when you move from the perspective of Blankfein to a local oligarch or war lord or State Department bureaucrat, you move out of supra-national capitalist strategy into a blended ideology reflecting the sometimes parallel sometimes conflicting agendas of both global and nationally-rooted elites. Because here decision-making is of necessity tied to real economy facts of production and therefore to the actual land.

    So from this contradiction (global v. national elites) arises “resistance” to some neoliberal MOTU-benefiting policies in favor of enriching national elites and shoring up autocratic power (Putin, Xi). It would seem that this is what Whitney and the others point to as some sort of challenge to global capitalism itself, which it clearly isn’t. The BRICS-salvation people view the Anglo-American (Five Eyes) military empire as the seat of global power. Would Blankfein or Draghi or Lagarde agree? I really don’t know, but I don’t think so. I think when neoliberals say that the nation-state is over, they mean it.

    Comment by Joe — August 24, 2015 @ 3:45 am

  2. “So maybe colonialism is not such a bad thing as long as it has Chinese characteristics? “

    Colonialism is, by its definition, control over the land, having the goal of, what Marx called, the annihilation of self-earned private property. Israel is a prime example of this! I don’t think you can characterize Chinese ‘imperialism’ as colonialism. So your whole article needs rewriting really.

    Simply put imperialism can be viewed as a competitive ‘world system’, where nations compete for diminishing land and for domination and control of key strategic regions. But from a revolutionary point of view you have to be concrete, i.e. look at the world imperialist system as its stands. So clearly and objectively the major imperialist power is the USA, followed by the UK, Germany, Japan and France. China is possibly an emerging imperialist power (though in finance capital terms it is still some way off) but currently its nature is different to the Western capitalist model of military domination and supremacy. Put simply the USA (assisted by its allies) wants to dominate, China wants trade and invest. This probably is linked to the US being a capitalist bourgeois colossus while China is more of a (very) deformed worker state. Russia’s banking system and low level of foreign direct investment almost precludes it from being considered an imperialist power. You could call it a powerful regional actor. But its helplessness in face of US sanctions reveals the truth of the pecking order.

    One view of the Development bank is that it is an attempt to raise the imperialist credentials of its members; the other is that it is a struggle against advanced nation’s imperialist domination. Given its rather limited objectives I think the latter is the most appropriate explanation.

    When China starts building military bases in South America and Europe and starts dropping bombs to get rid of regimes it doesn’t like then you can reasonably start talking about China or the BRICS as imperialist powers.

    Your view of imperialism emasculates the concept, neutralises it, reduces it to nothing and ultimately is an apology for imperialism. I am not surprised by your weak and subjective analysis of imperialism. Lenin, to his credit, was remorselessly concrete, conceptual and objective. And it is only by proceeding in this way you can come to a meaningful analysis of imperialism.

    You contribute nothing to this subject.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — August 24, 2015 @ 5:54 pm

  3. When China starts building military bases in South America and Europe and starts dropping bombs to get rid of regimes it doesn’t like then you can reasonably start talking about China or the BRICS as imperialist powers.

    —-

    I see that you omitted Africa from the place where military bases might be built. Nice dodge.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 24, 2015 @ 5:56 pm

  4. BRICS, Wall Street and London are all bad because they are capitalist, but two or more hegemonic blocs are better than (i.e., not as bad as) one hegemonic bloc, because their rivalry creates room for maneuver; e.g., Yanukovych’s overthrow, or Snowden’s asylum.

    Comment by Watson — August 25, 2015 @ 1:15 am

  5. “I see that you omitted Africa from the place where military bases might be built. Nice dodge.”

    Laughable!

    Ok, when China starts building military bases in Africa, South America and Europe etc etc etc and starts dropping bombs to get rid of regimes it doesn’t like then you can reasonably start talking about China or the BRICS as imperialist powers!!

    The dodge incidentally was excluding Asia!

    Comment by Simon Provertier — August 25, 2015 @ 3:54 pm

  6. Simon,
    http://africasacountry.com/2015/05/what-does-it-mean-that-china-has-a-military-base-in-djibouti/
    I am not sure but I think that this is what Louis might have been refering to. Anyways the comment by Watson is the most crucial to this discussion IMHO.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — August 25, 2015 @ 6:43 pm

  7. Seriously? That is the basis upon which this argument rests? That is still one less than Pakistan!

    An index of imperialism has been constructed by Marxists (following on from Lenin) who have basically highlighted 5 key areas (though there are others):

    Military
    Banks
    Foreign Direct Investment
    Use of Currency in Foreign Exchange Reserves
    GDP

    The fact that Proyect picked just one of these, China’s imagined military bases, and thought that said anything relevant just illustrates that Proyect doesn’t look at this from a Marxist perspective. He just searches for snippets that build up a case, rather than building up a rigorous, conceptual and objective picture.

    I say this not out of any love for a society that allows hundreds of workers a year to die in shoddy conditions or compels people to eat from dustbins when they fall on hard times or executes masses of people, or allows corruption to run rife or experiments on prisoners and routinely forces entire communities to uproot in the name of progress. China resembles Britain circa 1830.

    Marx once said that the bourgeois show its true barbarity in their overseas territories, with China it is the opposite.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — August 25, 2015 @ 7:44 pm

  8. Imperialism is not limited to one single timeless form. In fact, the imperialism of the United States today–while obviously closely related–is not precisely the same as the imperialism of the U.S, forty years ago, nor that of the British Empire up to World War II–or for that matter (to choose the favorite example of the ignorant) the Roman Empire or Republic (no right-thinking American can tell the difference).

    The so-called Russian Federation today–unlike some other republics–is a mosaic of people brutally subjugated by the Great Russians, who historically rank among the most ruthlessly arrogant, racist, and genocidal peoples on the face of the earth. Ask any Chechen. This neither entirely determines the character of modern Russia nor is irrelevant to it. I think there is a close relationship.

    If the Russian Federation is not in some important sense imperialistic–especially now, when the only standard to which Russia subscribes is the cult of Putin’s biceps (hence no shred of Stalinist pretend internationalism)–what is it? The annexation of Crimea does not cease to be imperialistic even if one grants the absurd hypothesis that the post-Maidan Ukraine is objectively fascist and entirely controlled by the CIA (not that there are no fascists in Ukraine or that the CIA and State Department are not trying). Denying that Ukrainians are a people gets you no further than comparable assertions about the Palestinians by Zionists.

    Some nameless theorist’s list of bullet points, IMHO–is mere theology faced with the contradictory tangle of the history we are living at present.

    In any case, when it comes to the military, perhaps no candidate to replace or diminish U.S. hegemony with another hegemony or some compound hegemony will get very far while the U.S. itself has so many bases worldwide. This seems fairly obvious to me, but obviously does not preclude one or more hegemonies growing, as it were, in the shadow of the U.S.–and even profiting from it. You would expect their strategies to differ significantly at this point from the U.S. one.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — August 26, 2015 @ 1:27 pm

  9. Theology? Really?

    The amount of foreign direct investment not indicative of anything? The size of military and operations overseas not relevant? The use of a nations currency in foreign exchange reserves not relevant? Size of finance capital not relevant?

    I posted the deeper analysis behind this on this site some time ago, but it is here. read it and then tell me this is theology and not an objective and concrete analysis, which very much takes into account the facts as they are today!!!

    And then tell me, well Russia invaded Crimea so that means they are all imperialists really isn’t just so much bullshit!

    http://economicsofimperialism.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/imperialism-by-numbers.html

    Incidentally for a thorough analysis arguing against Russian as imperialist read this. I am nit saying I susbscribe to everything being said but it certainly stretches the mind beyond your subjective musings.

    https://critiqueofcrisistheory.wordpress.com/is-russia-imperialist/

    Comment by Simon Provertier — August 26, 2015 @ 5:20 pm

  10. Louis, I’d be interested to know your view on Peter Lee’s article on “anti-colonialism” (Russia’s, Japan’s, India’s) in the latest edition of the Counterpunch newsletter, and if/how that might relate to this debate. I’d also like to know what you think of Panitch and Gindin’s “The Making of Global Capitalism.” It seems that they also throw a lot of cold water on the notion that the BRICS present anything like an alternative to the American system, but instead just jostle around within it.

    Comment by David Green — August 26, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

  11. I have the latest CP magazine. I’ll look at Lee and am sure I will disagree with him based on past readings. I’d love to find the time to read Panitch and Gindin but I am swamped as it is right now.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 26, 2015 @ 6:03 pm

  12. Simon:

    Pointing mutely to work you do not and perhaps cannot intelligibly summarize or even accurately cite is hardly a substitute for the “thorough analysis” you so cheerily allude to. Coming from you, the phrase “subjective musings” is richly ironic.

    Seriously, do you really support the bought-and-paid-for sycophantic ravings of Mike Whitney as thorough analysis? Or Putin’s fag-baiting Mussolini-like cult for acrobatics and the sweaty torso? People on the left heroize Putin and BRICS together precisely for “subjective” reasons–because they want to see the U.S, as an unstinting fountain of immutable pure evil, and any possible rival or opponent as the force of good. What could possibly be more subjective or unhistorical?

    But thank you for your link in a different post. There may be something there that you failed to convey.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — August 26, 2015 @ 9:40 pm

  13. I believe nobody understand an imperialistic relationship better than those who are at the receiving end of it. As an Iranian, I can testify that we have been getting it from the Russians for more than 200 years. But, here is a more elaborated form of saying the same thing:

    1) Those who argue that the BRICS should be supported believe that the economic and political development of BRICS nations will ultimately undermine the U.S., and as a result will undermine imperialism.

    By contrast, during his lifetime, Lenin *never* proposed that, for example, the U.S. emerging imperialism was a good thing or should be supported so as to undermine the British imperialism. He supported fighting against ALL imperialist countries. Including Russia, which Lenin (again, during his lifetime) designated as imperialist; also this is why Lenin explicitly supported the right of self-determination for Ukraine (from Russian domination). So … How is it that Russia was considered — by Lenin, and *after* writing the ‘Imperialism as a Highest Stage of Capitalism’ pamphlet — an imperialist country a hundred years ago, and not an imperialist country now?!!

    2) Just for one example of imperialist behavior toward less powerful nations: Russia, starting in early 1800s, subjected Iran, formalizing her dominant relation with Iran in successive wars and treaties that followed: Treaty of Gulistan (1813), Treaty of Turkmenchay (1828) and Treaty of Akhal (1881). Each and every of these treaties included exclusively economic/trade provisions that forced Iran into agreeing to not interfere with any Russian businessman who chose to set up shop in any part of Iran. Meaning, through the use of force, Russia was able to gain asymmetrical economic benefits it otherwise would not have had. *That* is imperialism’s core characteristic, not finance capital alone.

    3) Finance capital alone cannot guarantee imperialist gains. In order to achieve its goals imperialism frequently has to employ ‘extra-economic’ means (i.e., military means). Case in point, Iraq. Iraq had to be brought to its knees not by financial instruments, but by brute force of a military attack. Or, another case in point, Crimea being gobbled up by Russia, just like that.

    Any Marxist who thinks that purely ‘economic’ features are the key determinants of the imperialist label ignore the importance placed on ‘extra-economic’ means by which ‘primitive accumulation’ was achieved, for example, during the transition from feudalism to capitalism (see Capital, Vol. 1; Part Eight).

    5) In any event, Russia does have foreign direct investments in other countries. For example, in Iran; the most famous of FDI is the nuclear reactor they have built AND the six or more nuclear reactors they have been contracted to build in the future. Getting the contract to build nuclear reactors is like having the sole ticket to the exclusive entry allowed to an absolute monopoly market.

    Also, Russia is a great beneficiary in the nuclear deal in other ways. They will now have a quasi-monopoly over a good portion of enrichment of the uranium to be shipped to Iran under the terms of the current deal on the table.

    In short, Russia has been extorting the Iranian regime in different ways for a about two hundred years.

    Imperialist countries stick it to whomever they can, and not to everybody equally, and definitely not able to stick it to everybody at once and at all times. Not even the US gets its way all the time; unless, of course, you live in the world of Global Research. There is always agency on the other side, and there is always more than one other side.

    Comment by reza — August 26, 2015 @ 11:40 pm

  14. “Any Marxist who thinks that purely ‘economic’ features are the key determinants of the imperialist label ignore the importance placed on ‘extra-economic’ means by which ‘primitive accumulation’ was achieved, for example, during the transition from feudalism to capitalism ”

    I would love to understand how that counts as ‘extra-economic’. Didn’t Marx say that ‘power’ is an economic force? And size and use of military would count as extra economic by your definition and it is the main determinant!

    Globalized primitive accumulation is more a feature of US capitalism than Chinese or Russian (domestically is a different story!). But even so, it is more a feature of colonialism than modern imperialism (or ‘backwardness’ to ‘advanced’).

    See below article related to US land grabbing:

    http://www.mintpressnews.com/u-s-investors-government-policies-leading-global-land-grabs/191426/

    Now I accept the US is not the only land grabber but they are by far and away the biggest! Though this is hard to measure because of legal issues so is not really brought into an objective analysis. The categories I listed above are all qualified by what is omitted and why. Does it give an exact picture of the world imperialist system? No. But does it give a reasonable picture, well I would argue yes!

    In order to articulate a theory of imperialism it is incumbent on people to measure the level of foreign direct investment and not just provide the odd example.

    Though the definition of FDI is

    “a controlling ownership in a business enterprise in one country by an entity based in another country”

    I.e. a measure of how far a country is able to exploit workers in other countries.

    So how does Russian investment in Iran nuclear facilities count as being FDI?

    I would argue that from an historical and geographical point of view Russia’s actions in Crimea are of a different order to the US invasion of Iraq, for example. I would look at that as a border dispute, these sort of disputes have involved Ethiopia,Rwanda in recent years. i guess we would have to call them imperialist nations.

    The problem with this article and of some of the comments above is that they try to dvelop a personal subjective approach, which is just another way of saying, imperialism is not an issue. And more often than not is code for, support US imperialism!

    Comment by Simon Provertier — August 27, 2015 @ 4:15 pm

  15. So, for Simon, a two-hundred year history of Russian domination of Iran and extracting extortions is an “odd example,” and the Russian annexation of Crimea is a “border dispute”. Man, you should advise the Israeli’s.

    Oh, wait, they already apply the same semantics.

    Every time you comment on this blog, it is to point out how it blows; so it must be a very difficult assignment to have to come back day after day after day to read things you so deeply disagree with. Hope you get paid well for your headaches.

    You seem half-adept at putting together seemingly scientific sounding paragraphs, purporting to be a Marxist analysis, yet fail to answer a simple question: how is it that Russia was imperialist in Lenin’s lifetime (according to Lenin; with which you can disagree of course), and now, after a hundred years, and having re-established a virulently capitalist system run autocratically by a bunch of mobsters who prey on all their neighbors (Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Ukraine, Iran, et al), it is not imperialist? Wow! That’s amazing.

    Anyway, I think you should apply for a job with the Israeli’s anyway. They may pay better.

    Comment by reza — August 27, 2015 @ 7:18 pm

  16. This whole discussion, despite its legitimate complexities, has to be framed in terms of the hysterical comments about BRICS being “a causeway to socialism” that Louis quotes at the beginning of this piece. A bloc of countries that are moving forward on the capitalist road and whose ruling classes are prospering wildly at the expense of their workers and because of their relationship to global capitalism cannot rationally be treated as a socialist vanguard simply because the likes of Putin enjoy poking a stick in Uncle Sam’s eye from time to time.

    The discussion of the appropriate definition of imperialism today is secondary to this larger question. I think Reza and Louis are right about this, but even if there are legitimate grounds for argument about the definition, nobody can seriously dispute that BRICS is/are solidly and immovably capitalist. This is true whether Russia can meaningfully be called “imperialist” or not.

    There must be revolution in the BRICS countries as well as the traditional imperialist powers if they are to become truly socialist or lead the world to become socialist.

    If the BRICS countries ever do become a causeway to socialism, it will be over the dead bodies of their current rulers, including Putin.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — August 28, 2015 @ 10:02 pm

  17. Pete Glosser,

    One of the best descriptions of the ongoing struggles ongoing globally, I think, is presented by Immanuel Wallerstein. His description goes something like this:

    There are three axes of struggle ongoing *simultaneously* and globally. These are:

    1) The North-South axis: this is the classic and well-known axis, and the ONLY one that the “anti-imperialist” western left takes into consideration. This is the dominant/dominated nations dynamic. Or, the imperialist/subjugated nations dynamic.

    2) The North-North and South-South axis. This is the alliances formed horizontally among the imperialist blocks on the one hand or the subjugated nations on the other hand.

    The now-defunct Non-Aligned Movement/Nations could be an example of South-South relations that could affect the other axes, or the NATO an example of North-North alliance that could do the same.

    3) The class struggle axis, which operates universally in ALL nations.

    The “anti-imperialist” leftists (who consider BRICS as a positive development for creating better possibilities for socialism) are in a place where they cannot explain everything coherently, exactly because they dismiss out of hand this third axis, and most of them don’t even fully understand the second axis.

    As to the latter … For example, they confuse the alliance between Russia and the butcher Assad in Syria (along with the Islamic Republic of Iran) as a South-South alliance. Which it is not. This confusion is precisely a result of their not recognizing the class-struggle axis as a valid variable in the whole calculus of power globally.

    So, in the end, they turn out to be very conservative in the methodology of their analysis. Their politics is likewise very conservative. It basically tells the working classes in Russia, in Iran, in Syria, and so on, that they should shut the *f* up and put up with whatever rape their local bullies are handing out to them. These people, just like the Kissinger’s of this world, propose that relation between the states is the supreme determinant of the fate of all.

    They actually *become*, pretty much, a Kissinger prototype, looking at the world in “real politic” framework. But, while operating in the same framework, they think if they (as Louis as pointed out many times) put a minus where Kissinger would put a plus, they have done themselves proud and are done analyzing.

    So, they end up in the strangest places politically. They support Assad, they support a *theocracy* (Iranian regime, that is) and an obvious bully (Putin, that is). (I’m not even going into Brazil’s or South African state’s horrible records.)

    Comment by reza — August 28, 2015 @ 11:19 pm

  18. Reza,
    You talk about this third axis of struggle the class struggle. It may theoritically exist but for practical purposes it does not seem to exist anymore to someone looking at the world through a European-American prisim except perhaps in Venezula. So if a person views this third axis that you talk about as being irrelevent then it would be irresponsible to encourage peopel not to put up with what ever rape the local bullies are handing out.
    Spefically when dealing with Iran, I would of course not condemn any leftist who wanted to start a violent insurgency in Iran to over throw the government but living in Europe I am not going to have to share the risks that such a course of action would entail. Now even if such a movement could get off the ground inside of Iran what could the costs of such a decision be. One could easily imagine that Iran end up like Syria or Lybia. Iran sucks for many of the people who live there. It clearly COULD be worse. So why not encourage Iranians to vote with their feet? Furthermore even in the unlikely event that a leftist revolution or insurgency or movement to change the country could be successfull in Iran it will suffer from a perception among many people that the new rulers are puppets for outsiders, unless there is a change the people beilieve is real in the USA first. Evidence that a change in the USA has occured might be for example the storming of the CIA Headquarters in Langley or the public execution of the countries generals.
    Specifically in dealing Iraq. It is worth trying to support the Kurds. None the less I have read many reports that the Kurdish leadership is just a corrupt as every other leadership on the planet. The perception that they are secularists, and even leftists makes them the team for Europeans to cheer for and to provide support for.
    Specifically on Syria. Like the USA with its Democrats and Republicans there seem to be only two viable options for now. Assad seems the lesser of the two evils to me.
    On Russia and Putin. Putin might be an ass but he is cerianly no worse than those who rule the west and it is the west that instigated and and stoked the fires of conflict in Ukraine. Sure there were underlying problems with the county but the west was makng promises to Ukraine that they had no business making.
    So it summary where you write “This confusion is precisely a result of their not recognizing the class struggle as a valid variable in the whole calculus of power globally.” I see clarity instead of confusion.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — August 29, 2015 @ 11:13 am

  19. Curt,

    Thank you for providing a clear example and verification of what I said.

    Class struggle does not take a holiday. What you observe as lack of class struggle is actually the acknowledgment that the ruling classes are winning the class struggle at the moment. It does not mean class struggle does not exist. But since you don’t see any class struggle, you can’t imagine how the class struggle dynamics could change the political situation anywhere. You see everything as static.

    So, you, in your “clarity” advocate that, just like I said, people just shut up and put up with whatever degree of rape their local bullies are handing them because “things could always get worse”. This is the most conservative assessment of what to do. And as a result, even if you don’t like saying it, you end up saying that we must be happy with the butcher Assad, with the theocracy in Iran, and on and on.

    Thank you again for making it clear.

    Comment by reza — August 29, 2015 @ 5:14 pm

  20. Reza
    Glad I could help. I hope that my help came soon enough to do some good. For now, timing is very important when considering strategies and tactics. In the future timing might not be important when considering tactics and strategies.
    Curt

    Comment by Curt Kastens — August 29, 2015 @ 10:15 pm

  21. “a very difficult assignment to have to come back day after day after day to read things you so deeply disagree with. Hope you get paid well for your headaches.”

    I live in a system that I disagree with! How about you?

    “Anyway, I think you should apply for a job with the Israeli’s anyway. They may pay better.”

    This says much about where you go wrong. You think I am saying this stuff simply to present Russia in a good light. That isn’t the reason. You are simply a propagandist, as you comments above prove. Incidentally who pays you?

    You also know nothing of anti imperialism (other than what your imagination tells you it is), as your comments above also show.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — August 30, 2015 @ 12:29 pm

  22. Whitney’s celebrations of Putin as part of his perpetual theme of the imminent collapse of the US dominated global monetary system are embarrassing. Not just because Putin is such a misogynistic, homophobic autocrat who exploits the most conservative aspects of Russian culture to concentrate power in himself, but also because there is no indication that US financial power is vulnerable. His excitement over stock market declines, student loan defaults and housing price gyrations mistakes the day to day activity of finance capitalism for seismic threats.

    A lot of leftists today point towards Putin, the Iranians, Turkey, the Brazilians, whomever is most useful at at the time, as threats to capitalism, because they cannot recognize and identify with working class conflict as it currently exists. As reza says, there is always such conflict, and the fact that the capitalists are winning at this time doesn’t mean that BRICs, Putin, Erdogan and others such be substituted for it. It is also indicative of the error of conflating the US with global capitalism, centered around the dubious notion that the end of US imperialism will result in the collapse of capitalism, or, at least, the infliction of a significant impairment of it. Given that capital is now virtual and moves with the speed of a mouse click, this is an implausible scenario.

    Louis’ posts about the Russian Republic highlights a historical issue that the left has had difficulty engaging. The fact that there is one global capitalist hegemony, like the US today, doesn’t preclude lesser imperialisms. The US was imperialistic, almost from its inception, for many over 100 years, even as the UK was the global capitalist power. Likewise, the Russians were also imperialistic for centuries, even as the economic evolution of the country proceeded slowly. China is another example, having subjected many peoples in the creation of the Han Empire.

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 30, 2015 @ 4:20 pm

  23. Reza
    I wanted to add to my Spartan comments above. What would it mean not to “accept” the theocratic leadership of Iran? Does that mean that a person should not support the nuclear deal? Does that mean that a person should support some kind of economci sanctions against Iran? Does that meant that a person should support funding for the Mujahideen that operated out of Iraq? What would the opptions be for a private citizen of the USA or Europe? What would the options be for the leadership of a large NGO? What would the options be for the leadership of say the USA or Germany?
    Now I can imagine without to much difficulty that if I lived in Iran and I had somehow managed to become someone who admired the thougts of Karl Marx or even Thomas Paine I would want to leave the country. But if I could not leave the country for one reason or another I would follow one of two options. I would attempt to become an invisable cipher, which Ithink is a common strategy from what I have heard from Iranian ex pats.
    Or, I wouild learn the Quran backwards and forwards and try to convince anyone who would listen that if you want to submit to the will of God it is your duty to work for a society in economic justice prevails. I am not a Muslim but many years ago I did study Islam and Islam is not inompatible with economic justice. Even if it were it would be the mission of option number two to convince people that the Koran requires a socialist society.

    It was while I was thinking about this problem that I had what I think was a queit ingenious idea. You see a person could could say that by following my principles to their logical conclusion that the Palestinians should role over for the Zionists. But that I think that is an inaccurate assessment. I think that the logical conclusion of what I have said is that the Palestinians should have pretended to convert to Judism in 1968.
    There are some technical difficulties with that, but it is a strategy that Muslims and Jews used in Spain. The difficulies could have been over come. Then the Zionists would have been in a bind many years ago. At some point the Palestinans could have shown their true colors and back in the 1970s it was much more likely to have been Marxist rather than Islamist.
    If pretending to be something that you are not would have been to much to handle the Palestinians could have taken measures to overthrow the Arab oil monarchies and use that oil money for propoganda purposes in the USA and Europe. The Palestians cause is so much better than the Israeli zionist cause the Palestinians could have easily won a propoganda war in the USA and Europe if the effort would have been made backed by Saudi and Kuwaiti and UAE oil money.

    Richard,
    while I agree that the end of US imperialism will not neccissarily end capitalism, can any reasonable and informed person argue that the USA is not the most powerful force for evil in the world today? If that is the case it would seem apparent that a real change in the USA would translate in to real gains for almost everyone everywhere on the planet.
    Curt

    Comment by Curt Kastens — August 30, 2015 @ 8:21 pm


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