Saturday, 16 August 2008

Third World War?

Last night on BBC's Newsnight - See:Newsnight, former Yeltsin Advisor, Alexander Nekrasov, commented that if a repetition of this week's conflcit in Georgia arose in Ukraine, after Ukraine had joined NATO, then this would mean World War III.

As Nekrasov pointed out the South Ossetians are just a small population. There are about 1 million Ossetians, with two-thirds living in the more developed North with the other third living in the South. The South Ossetians rely on the North for jobs. As a result of Georgias invasion of South Ossetia, and its destruction of Ossetian towns and cities half of the South Ossetian people have been turned into refugees. By, contrast the Ukraine has a large population of more than 46 million people. But, the country is divided in two with one half comprising ethnic Russians, and still looking towards Russia for its future. If Ukraine joins NATO as the US is pushing for then it is quite possible that the Russian population, and the other ethnic groups, such as the Rumanians, and Belorussians might seek to break away and demand the right of self-determination. If such demands resulted in the same kind of attacks that Georgia this last week unleashed on South Ossetia, Russia would be bound to respond, and the US would be bound by Article 5 of the NATO Constitution to come to the defence of its ally.

The Rose and Orange revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia had some common features. After years of Stalinist repression and economic stagnation the economic boom that began in the late 1990's made it attractive for these states to look West. Although, its not right to place too much emphasis on it given that incentive, its also true that the actual political developments owed a great deal to massive intervention by Western intelligence organisations that pumped billions of pounds into front organisations, nor indeed do these agencies deny they did so. Why should the US be so interested in such action?

In fact, the world has many of the hallmarks that the world had at the end of the 19th century. There is a scramble for resources, as booming economic activity has created shortages and high prices for raw materials and foodstuffs. Paul Mason on last night's Newsnight commented that the world again has been divided up into competing economic powers, in place of the division of the world into Imperialism and Stalinism of the Cold War era. The idea that some of the Left have advocated over recent years that Imperialism had morphed into something else, a super-imperialism, which could out of a common world interest manage these conflicting interests has been blown out of the water. What characterises Imperialism today is not that it has managed to create a single World Imperialism under US hegemony, but that it has replaced an imperialism of competing national states with an imperialism is competing huge economic blocs - essentially North America, Europe, and Asia.

Within this, the US occupies the position that Britain occupied at the end of the 19th century. The position of the former world economic superpower, which was in the process of being rapidly overtaken. Then it was Britain being overtaken by Germany which was takingaway British markets in Southern Europe, and Latin America in particular. Now it is China and other Asian countries that are taking away US markets all over the globe. But, then Britain retained huge military power just as the US does now. Both seek to utilise that military power to compensate for the lack of economic power and competitiveness. British naval superiority gave rise to the era of gunboat diplomacy just as US firepower today has seen it march unchallenged into Serbia, and the Balkans, into Iraq and elsewhere. Indeed, its the principal established that such large powers can act as policemen - which really means enforce their interests - around the globe, which has given Russia now the ability to say, we have the right to do what you have been doing. That is why socialists should have been opposing with all their might these actions of imperialism. They certainly should not have been promoting the idea that the imperialist leopard had changed its spots, that it was now somehow progressive, promoting "democracy", or in any other way carrying out actions that could be described as "good". In fact, under cover of humanitarianism, and "promoting democracy" the US has been implementing its strategy of the "New American Century". It has built up a huge number of US bases around the globe in countries it has intervened in, and those bases have a stategic purpose, or it should be said two strategic purposes.

Firtly, the US has positioned itself to be able to secure access to the most resource rich regions of the Gulf for oil, and of Central Asia for oil, metals and other materials. Secondly, it has developed strategic positions in the Balkans, on the Baltic and through central Asia in respect of any ptential military conlict with its two main military rivals - Russia and China. In doing so, it has not at all been concerned with humanitarianism or democracy. Throughout the Stansof central Asia it has allied itself with all kinds of tinpot dictators, including those that deal with their opponents by boiling them in oil! IN the Gulf it allies itself with the feudalists of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and other similarly grotesque regimes. In Iraq it has put in power a government of clerical-fascists, and is now looking to replace even that with some fascistic strongman similar to Saddam Hussein, who they also previously supported.

There has been some headlines at the statement yesterday by a Russian general in response to the signing of the Star Wars deal with Poland. He said, that it meant that in the event of conflict in order to deal with this missile shield Russia would now have to first Nuke Poland. The press have simply presented the headline "We'll Nuke Poland" as though the Russians were threatening to do that simply in response to the missile shield being sited there, but what do you expect from the bouregois press? In fact, my first response to the signing of the deal was precisely, "Do the Poles realise what they have done? They have made themselves the first line of US defence, and the first place to get taken out." Back in the 1980's when the US was siting Cruise Missiles in Britain we used to say that Britain was just a huge US Aircraft Carrier. Now the US has made the whle of Europe up to the Russian border an even bigger Aircraft Carrier! In 1962 the world was nearly destroyed because the US threatened to go to war over a few Russian missiles located on tiny Cuba. They can hardly be surprised at the Russian response to their actions now.

The deals done with Poland and other countries over the missile shield amount to this. Whether the technology of the shield works or not does not matter. It probably won't. Certainly it won't work for Poland and other such countries, and even if it did the fallout they would suffer from the destruction of the missiles heading their way would make it irrelevant. It s not the technology that constitutes hte missile shield it is the countries themselves. Because the idea is that interceptor missiles in these countries will take out Russian missiles - the US claim the idea is to stop nukes from Rogue states, but that's nonsense because none of them are anywhere near having the capability to launch intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles - the Russians as the previously mentioned general correctly stated would first have to concentrate their missiles on Poland etc. in order to overwhelm those defences before it could consider launching an attack on the US. That would give the US time - they hope - to launch an overwhelming attack on Russian nuclear sites before they could launch any sizeable attack on the US. IN other words Poland has made itself the bullet proof vest of the US.

Yet, the US has made clear it will not resort to military force agaibnst the Russians in Georgia. Why? Because at the moment it has no need. In the late 19th century the main scramble was for sources of raw materials, for colonies to get them from on the cheap. Only when the boom came to an end was it then necessary also to try to gain protected markets for the sale of products in order to realise profits. At the moment we are at the same phase of the Long Wave, a boom that should last for another 12-15 years. That boom means that amrkets are plentiful, profits can easily be realised, and are growing rapidly. Resources can be bought rather than fought over. At the moment. As Trostky pointed out imperialists do not go to war over principles such as freedom or democracy, they go to war over markets and profits. When the boom ends, when profits can no longer be made so easily, when the lack of profits means that resources cannot so easily be bought, when markets are less plentiful and have to be secured by hook or by crook then the drive to war will come just as it did in 1914. The last time that drive came in the mid 1970's it was muted by the existence of the USSR, by the common cause of the imperialists against "Communism". That factor no longer exists. Indeed the former "Communists" are now the main economic players depriving the US hegemon of its unrestricted dominion over the world economy.

The idea that the US or Europe can restrain Russia by threats of removing it from the G8, by denying it access to the WTO etc. are ludicrous. The bankrupt US economy relies on the benevolence of strangers. Russia has billions of dollars invested in US bonds and other debt. If Europe tries to boycott Russian oil and gas it will cripple itself whilst Russia will sell its oil, gas and otther primary products to more than enough other countries desperate for them. The Russian Stalinists have been drawing closer to the Chinese Stalinists over recent years. The current US response must give China more cause to draw closer still to Russia for a defensive alliane, because China holds no illusions in the US's real intentions towards it. China the new workshop of the world is desperate for the kind of raw materials that Russia can supply, just as Russia is a large market for Chinese consumer goods. As the Chinese working class and middle class grow rapidly the Chinese market itself will provide an alternative to the need for Western Markets. Moreover, if Russia holds a huge amount of US debt and equity, China owns a vast amount more. Long before any shooting war, they could threaten the US economy, and destroy it overnight should they choose to do so.

Only the working class can provide a solution to this problem. There is achocie of seeing the world as divided into two camps of a democratic imperialism, and a camp of fascism/Bonapartism in which the former is the lesser evil, and to which socialists advise workers giving their support. All the evidecne of history shows that this will lead to disaster as the workers are duped, and findthat the democratic imperialists are no different than the fascistic imperialists. Or else the working class can declare a plague on both their houses. Instead of viewing the world through the lens of "democracy" v "fascism/bonapartism", which amounts to nothing more than a good cop/bad cop routine by the capitalists socialists should teach the workers to see the world instead as divided into the camp of the workers and the camp of the besses, the camp of the oppressors, and the camp of the oppressed. Socialists stand on the side of the camp of the oppressed even if that camp has the mask of "fascism" as in the case of oppressed countries, and against the camp of the oppressors even when that camp has the mask of democracy. Only on that consistent basis can socialists win the majority of the workers and oppressed to its banner, only on that basis does it deserve to do so.


Alexei Medved said...

Arthur I see you have two interests in common with me: the political economy of capitalism + northern soul (I was at Wigan from 2nd anniversary thru to about 1979).
Send me your email.
Paul Mason

Anonymous said...

I always admire hope, but how do you cling to it?

Oh, and as for Wigan, if only I could drop a black bomber now.

a very public sociologist said...

An excellent and very thoughtful post, Arthur. I cannot see Ukraine being accepted into NATO this side of the US presidential elections this November, so it will be interesting to see what policy differences exists between McCain and Obama on this. The received wisdom is Obama is more of a multilateralist and so could be expected to pursue a more conciliatory line than the more bellicose tops of the Republicans. But surely either side is aware of the destabilising effect a confrontation with Russia over Ukraine would have. Will the more far sighted sections of the US ruling class prevail?

Arthur Bough said...

I'm actualy on the move driving through France at the moment - not actually typing and driving at the same time obviously. I'll post some replies when I have chance.

Arthur Bough said...

I've been thinking about the similarities between now and the period prior to 1914 for some time now. It has developed slowly from the background reseacrh and analysis I was doing looking at Kondratiev's Long Waves.

In a sense I was thrown for some time due to how WWII fits into that schema, and how the end of the last long boom in the mid 70's didn't.

I think the answer is actually fairly straightforward. WWII was really just a continuation of WWI, which failed to resolve the basic issues at stake i.e. the redivision of the world in accordance with the new economic realities - the existence of the British and French Empires when their economic base no longer could suport it. WWII started out as the continuation of the attempt by Germany to redivide the world, but ended necessarily as the ending of all old division in the interessts of an increasingly hegemonous and globalising US Capital. In many ways I think that new order reflected the changing structure of Capital at the micro (!) level described by Michael Barratt Brown, the change of corporate structure that enabled the development of multinational corporations udner the control of a Central "Bank" administrative centre, or holding company.

As for the mid 70's and the absence of any new war drive that too is equally easily explained. IN the 19th century as Trotsky pointed out Britain held the position of world hegemon. There was a Pax Brittanica based on its overarchiilitary power that flowed from its equally overarching economic and industrial power. Their were in fact what could be described as "sub-imperialist" conflicts. The Napoleonic Wars could be described in that manner, because at that time Britain was a Colonial rather than Imperialist Power. The drive to war of Colonial Powers is not the same as that of Imperialist powers, which is why it is stupid for a Marxist to talk about "Imperialism" in the wide sense of any expansionism on the part of a state. On that basis conflicts between tribes of hunter gatherers could be described as "imperialist". But, as Ronni Corbett would say I digress.

Until the latter part of the 19th century Britain was the only industrial power. There could be no actual inter-imperialist War. But, in a sense the same situation arises after WWII. The European powers and Japan are so devastated that they are reduced to virtually a dependency relationship on the US, indeed as the Marshall Plan demonstrated an actual dependency. Moreover, the existence of the USSR and Eastern Europe meant that what inter0imperuialist rivalry did exist was subsumed within the greater threat just as bosses subsume their competition amongst themselves to defeat a threat from the working class.

The crisis was resolved effectively in a number of ways. The drive to War did ome hence the increased threat of War with the USSR and the response seen in the siting of Cruise Missiles etc, the growth of a response in the growth of CND and peace mvoements throughout Europe. But the USSR was not an imperialist power it did not have the necessary drive to expand that an imperialist power does. It was expansionist, but expanionism is driven by different motives. Motives which are subjective as opposed to the objective need of imperialist Capital to expand beyond national borders. If War had come with the USSR it would have been an accident such as that which nearly happened on Revolution Day in 1987.

Additionally, the main imperialist power the US resolved its problems effectively at the cost of its weaker European partner. It allowed the dollar to devalue against the mark and other European currencies. I threw the main burden of paying for the crisis on to them - Nixon in response to DeGaulle's demand to be paid in Gold had closed the Gold Window in 1971.

Imperialism responded also with a much tougher atatck on the working class than had been known for mre than 50 years. It might have to have resorted to much harsher mesures still were it not for the collapse of the USSR. The 1980's saw the Long Wave downturn show its full force. The world working class suffered severe defeats. The Labour Movement in Britain and the US in particular got smashed. The USSR and Eastern Europe collapsed, and that collapse was not lost on the Chinese Stalinists either. The defeat and demoralisation of the working class in the West meant that in the new situation Capital could employ a new strategy. The Chinese Stalinists having seen wha happened in the USSR abandoned planning for the market, whilst maintaining totalitarian control. The vast source of new cheap exploitable labour resolved the main contradiction in that regard for Imperialism. The ability to sate demand resulting from a huge increase in liquidity meant that price inflation could be controlled even if asset inflation soared. Asset inflation provided the basis for lending by workers to make up for - and exceed - falling real incomes.

Only in this historically limited sense is it correct to speak of a super-imperialism that was able to overcome the problems of competition within a world economy.

Recent events show how limited that is, and how much more limited it will become as a description of the world economy and imperialism in coming years.

Anonymous said how do you cling to hope. I have to say that in a way I don't. Hope suggests that there is some external force which controls what happens. The only historical force which brings about change is class struggle. As a Marxist I beleive that force continues to operate by now fairly well understood laws. If you are asking am I confident that those laws will play out with a happy ending, then I would have to say that based on an analysis of how things stand at the moment. No.

In fact, I'd been looking at moving to Spain, but I am now looking at doing some analysis of where if anywhere would be the safest place to live if a Third World War did kick off. In every past cycle war has been the jumpstart for revolution. Yet, as Trotsky tells us Wars cannot be prevented other than by revolution, it is not possible to stop a war by limited action, or even to control the armed forces of a bouregois state. Only control of the State enables that.

But, if a War cannot be stopped without revolution, and if revolution comes after War then we could be screwed. In past wars there was severe devastation and suffering, which is part of why they spark revolutions, but there was also still huge human and technological resources left to undertake those revolutions, and as Trotsky says of WWI the devastation was quickly restored on the back of the new technology. A Third World War will not be like that. It will necessarily be a nuclear war that even if it doesn't wipe out the whole of humanity it will destroy all of the technology and basis for rebuilding a civilised society. It will certainly mean the end of civilisation, and probably the end of the rule of mankind.

Worse the forces to confront imperialism are very weak and confused. Prior to WWI the forces of Marxism and of the Labour Movement were huge. Prior to WWII they remained very large if badly led. Yet even the forces of the Fourth International were larger than those of the Third at the outbreak of WWI, and much larger than theose forces are today.

That does not bode well, and outmoded views about the nature of revolution and of the working class do not help. That is why I beleive that one of the most important things that marxists can do today is to forget about that Big Bang theory of Revolution, and get back to the nitty gritty. Act to change workers lives here and now through self-activity. Use the changes in the nature of the working class and its condition the existence of Workers Capital. Demand the Workers Capital in the pension funs be put under democratic workers control. Workers have the basic democratic right to control their own money. Use that money intelligently to bring large sections of the economy under workers ownership, and develop co-operative industries that can integrate their activities. Use capitalism's tools against it.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for your reply, I concluded many years ago that New Zealand might offer some protection from nuclear devastation.