Essence of neoliberal empire — Social chaos and world destruction
Alberto Rabilotta is an Argentine-Canadian journalist specializing in economic issues. Workers World is publishing this two-part article as a contribution to the discussion of contemporary imperialism and how to fight it. Translation from Spanish by WW managing editor John Catalinotto. This is Part I.
It’s hard not to feel that the world, humanity and our Mother Earth are being pushed to the brink of disaster by the neoliberal empire, that is, the United States and its NATO allies. This is as true if we talk about nature, about the accelerated extinction of the species and global warming, or of societies, or rather what remains of them in many nation-states that have shed or are being pushed to shed all national and popular sovereignty.
The current chaos is the result of imperialist policies that since the collapse of the Soviet Union have tried to maintain a unipolar world order to install neoliberalism globally and without any possibility of change; to make a reality of Margaret Thatcher’s “There is no alternative.”
But, as was demonstrated when the U.S. was forced to change its policy of aggression in Syria starting in September 2013, the unipolar world is no longer possible, not only because of the active role played by two great powers, which is what Russia and China are, but because most countries in the world support a return to multilateralism and oppose losing the national and popular sovereignty that allows them to adopt their own socioeconomic policies and integrate internationally or regionally in a manner consistent with their legitimate national interests.
The unipolar system was already compromised by the finding in the Middle East, Africa and Asia that the U.S. and its allies provoke wars they do not win — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria — but they always leave chaos, deaths, refugees, economic and social misery and destruction.
In 2011, the two main allies of the [U.S.] empire in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia, openly criticized Washington for not launching a war against Iran and for having allowed the overthrow of President Mubarak in Egypt, leading to President Barack Obama’s message that you should “not abandon your allies.” Everyone knows, and Washington’s allies more than others, that the wars the U.S. and its allies launch are not won, that they destroy countries, economies and societies, and leave chaos. From Afghanistan to Syria, through Iraq and Libya — not to mention Pakistan, as well as Sudan and other African countries — they have left only destruction, bloody battles between religious communities and ethnic groups, and hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded and/or refugees, and enormous misery. The U.S. has nothing positive to show for these adventures.
Nearly two decades ago the Italian-American economist David Calleo wrote about the phases of final decline of the empires of Holland and England, describing them as “exploitative hegemony” in which the empire has nothing positive to offer (for example, economic development or military security) to the countries it rules and which make up the system, including the economy and society of the empire, and then it dedicates itself to squeezing them thoroughly and living off the income that it can extract by all means from those countries. The U.S. empire is in that phase.
As an example of this, in a private conversation Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski made it clear that his country’s alliance with the U.S. and NATO does not benefit Poland, and, on the contrary, causes dangerous points of tension with neighboring countries. (conversation with Radoslaw Sikorski, La Vanguardia, June 16.) This same thought must be shared by any honest person who managed to remain in the government created by the coup in Ukraine — the latest country that the U.S. and its NATO allies have brought to the brink of civil war to provoke constant confrontation with Russia.
At the same time, as a sign that the empire cannot control everyone all the time, Latin American and Caribbean states have been creating mechanisms for regional and subregional integration in which the U.S. neither participates nor can control. Meanwhile the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) continue to advance their projects to create a development bank and monetary and financial instruments outside the scope of the U.S. and the U.S. dollar, while we witness the strengthening of economic, trade and monetary links between Russia and China, among other regional processes in Asia and Eurasia.
None of this constitutes in itself an anti-capitalist alternative. Indeed, almost all countries operate within a capitalist system, even those that may have important state sectors in their economy and may be prioritizing forms of social ownership as a substitute for private property in branches of their economy. But — and this is a key detail — in virtually all the countries, state intervention in the economy is a fact.
Also, all these processes of regional integration include the participation and involvement of the state, its institutions and companies, as well as levels of planning sectorwide in the industrial, energy, commercial and service areas, and financial and monetary systems that are promised or envisaged as being outside the control of the empire and its allies. One form of this type of regionalism as an alternative to “universal capitalism,” which we now call neoliberalism, was proposed by the Hungarian intellectual Karl Polanyi in 1945. (Karl Polanyi, “Universal Capitalism or Regional Planning?” London Quarterly of World Affairs, January 1945. It is included in French in the book “Essais Karl Polanyi,” Editions du Seuil, pp. 485-493.) We will return to this subject in the second part of this article.
Without posing a socialist or anti-capitalist alternative, it is clear that these regional and multilateral processes constitute a formidable barrier to the plans of the empire, a barrier that imperialism is trying to knock down using all the instruments at its disposal, such as its offensive to conclude quickly and in complete secrecy “last generation” agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Economic Partnership, the Transatlantic Partnership on Trade and Investment and the General Agreement on Trade in Services — or by trying to disrupt regional agreements through the manipulations of politicians, bureaucrats, professionals and entrepreneurs who are at the service of the empire.
The above agreements aim at the elimination of national sovereignty and subjection of the signatory states to respect the terms of those treaties negotiated in secret, which respect only one law, that of the U.S., and which include mechanisms by which states that do not comply with the terms may be brought to arbitration courts by monopolies. These states become guarantors of foreign monopolies’ investments made to appropriate economic sectors that the monopolies have an interest in, including those that leave it to the states to privatize public services.
But those agreements are not a done deal, because rejection of them is growing among populations that do not want to abandon their legitimate national interests and feelings, and among local capitalist interests who know they will be crushed by foreign monopolies. And while regionalism progresses, the White House and Congress in Washington have no choice but to cling to their belief that U.S. rule is invincible and the U.S. can continue to act, along with its strategic allies, with the impunity which the (relatively brief) unipolar order gave it.
It is in this context that the July 1 speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Russia’s ambassadors should be measured, one where he reminded them that the U.S. is applying to his country the same policy of “containment” that it applied during the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Putin said he hoped that pragmatism will prevail, that Western countries would strip off their ambitions of trying to “establish a ‘world barracks’ and arrange everybody by rank, or to impose single rules of behavior and life.”
Putin said Russian diplomats know how dynamic and unpredictable international events can sometimes be. “They seem to have come together at a single time and unfortunately are not all of a positive character. The potential for conflict is growing in the world, the old contradictions are sharpened and new ones are being provoked. Very often we find this type of situation, often unexpectedly, and we observe with regret that international law is not working, the most basic norms of decency are not complied with and the principle of all-permissiveness is gaining the upper hand. … It is time we admit each other’s right to be different, the right of every country to live its own life rather than to be told what to do by someone else. World development cannot be unified. However, we can look for common issues, see each other as partners rather than competitors, and establish cooperation between states, their associations and integration structures.” And referring to the conflicts affecting various regions of the world, Putin stressed that “more new hot spots are appearing on the world map,” which are suffering from a “security deficit.” (Vladimir Putin speech to Russian ambassadors, July 1. For official English version, see eng.kremlin.ru/transcripts/22586.)
Hours earlier, in the Anti-Imperialist International Meeting organized by the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Bolivian President Evo Morales said it is “important to identify” current instruments of domination of capitalism and imperialism, so that “at least in Latin America there are not coups nor as many military dictatorships as before,” but instead there are “peoples who defend democracies, people who very clearly pose programs and projects, political projects of liberation.”
In this context, according to the Bolivian president, you have to wonder what the empire is doing. “It is provoking conflicts in each country, financing confrontations within a people, a country and then with the pretext of defending human rights or the rights of children, of women, of the elderly, it intervenes with the Security Council — this so-called Security Council of the United Nations, which to me is an insecurity council, a council of invasion of the peoples of the world.”
To address this imperialist aggression, Morales asked WFTU delegates to develop “a new political thesis to free the peoples of the world,” going beyond “sectoral demands in order to deepen the crisis in and end capitalism, along with the oligarchies and the hierarchies.” (Bolivian Information Agency, www3.abi.bo/)
In short, for an observer who has not lost historical memory — which Putin said is merely an explanation to Russian diplomats of the conclusions of the Russian people and at least a portion of their leaders, after having suffered the experience of perestroika and the brutal application of neoliberal policies, and of living through current experience of how U.S. imperialism behaves when people want to find their own path, even if this path is within capitalism — without underestimating all that, these lessons should have helped revive just what imperialism sought to bury: the teachings of Lenin on imperialism.
It is not so easy to erase the historical memory of the peoples, and while I was thinking about that, I read the article “Looking Back” by Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, former president of the National Assembly of Cuba, which concludes with the following sentence: “When turning your eyes back to those years of dreams, there comes to mind the warning of William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” (Chilean magazine Punto Final, edition #807 of June 27.)
A few days before the meeting of the WFTU, President Evo Morales hosted the meeting of the G77 + China, and no doubt registered there many feelings about the brutal actions of imperialism and the willingness of many governments to defend their legitimate national interests, something which is prohibited under the neoliberal empire. Again, when people who live under the imperial yoke recover their historical memory, it is logical that the need for an anti-imperialist strategy comes into play.
In a recent analysis entitled “America’s Real Foreign Policy — The Corporate Protection Racket,” U.S. intellectual Noam Chomsky describes the true historical goal of U.S. foreign policy: Protecting the interests of big business with an “economic nationalism (a protectionism) that depends heavily on massive state intervention,” and for this reason as a general rule has opposed by all means those policies of “economic nationalism” that other countries have.
This, which Chomsky based on documentary evidence, has been valid throughout the analysis of U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. It is the background of the entire U.S. foreign policy throughout the period after World War II, when the world system that was to be dominated by the U.S. was threatened by what internal documents call “radical and nationalistic regimes” that respond to popular pressures for independent development. (Noam Chomsky, “How Washington Protects Itself and the Corporate Sector,” tomdispatch.com/blog/175863.)
What Chomsky documents fits with what Karl Polanyi anticipated in 1945, that the U.S. has been the home office of 19th century liberal capitalism and is powerful enough to pursue on its own the utopian politics of restoring economic liberalism.
And in that sense, with all the limitations that entails, regionalism is now the main anti-imperialist front, and the other will have to be built by the people, by their political, trade union and social organizations.
This article appears in the original Spanish at alainet.org/active/75106.