Imperialism’s unstable world order

Original Article, sub-headed After seven days of bloody war in the Caucasus and growing tension between the US and Russia, John Rees asks what is it about the new world order that has made it so prone to warfare?, via

There is one fundamental thing that is common to capitalism in every age that makes it a uniquely violent system. It is not a marginal or accidental part of the system but something that is part of the very definition of capitalist society. That thing is competition.

Uh-oh!  Competition being bashed…must restrain from shouting ‘USA, USA, USA.’  After all, isn’t our competitive spirit what made us greater than everybody else?  Isn’t competition what makes our ‘free market’ system of capitalism work so well?

Everyone from Karl Marx to Margaret Thatcher agrees that economic compeition is central to capitalism. The “free” market is about different firms, whether they are corner shops or multinational conglomerates, competing on the market.

W might even understand this!

They compete for customers and “market share”. They compete for cheap labour and cheap raw materials. If they succeed they prosper, if they fail they are put out of business by their competitors. At least that’s the theory.

Rees then points out that practice is, often times, quite different from theory:

The state often alters the rules of competition and props up or bails out those corporations that, for one reason or another, it is politically unacceptable to allow to fail – look for instance at the effective nationalisation of Northern Rock.

Bear Stearns, Fannie and Freddy, Chrysler (back in the day) and gosh knows how many others have had us bail them out.  There might be, on occasion, a reason to do this: Saving jobs for workers can at least be argued to be a legitimate interest of the state.  Lining the pockets of the already rich isn’t.

The state uses force to alter the rules of competition by using its police and armed forces to threaten and intimidate both the domestic labour movement and economic rivals abroad.

Capitalists tend to like armed thugs…well, as long as the armed thugs are working for them.  Just look at how police departments are being militarized.  And don’t think that Blackwater isn’t somehow in the mix for use in this country.

And there’s the rub – economic competition between firms always also leads to economic, political and military competition between nation states. The “hidden hand” of the market needs the iron fist of the state.

I don’t remember Adam Smith explaining this.  It’s true, of course.  Anytime you hear a politician, including BO, talk about sustaining American interests abroad is when you should think ‘iron fist.’

From the birth of the capitalist system in the 17th century, warfare became a more systematic and destructive process. Industrial development gave states the weapons to wage war in more bloody ways than ever before. And competition made sure they did so more systematically than before.

Rees points out that the Netherlands and England were at war almost as soon as they became captialist.  Surprise, surprise.  To a great extent, the US was founded by this early group of capitalists (I have argued much more so than the religious extermists who founded Massachsetts).  You see, warfare is just a competition between two groups.  Why would we be surprised at more and dirtier wars under a system that glorifies competition?

The most powerful industrial powers seek to use their economic wealth to develop military capacities that can intimidate or defeat their rivals and so increase their ability to dominate their competitors.

Now, I don’t have the links handy, but you can actually do research on the following: Before we attacked Afghanistan, we negotiated with the Taliban to get a pipeline through Afghanistan (yeppers), and when that negotiation fell through we told various governments in the region that we were going to attack Afghanistan in October, 2001…and we told them during the summer of 2001 (this was written up in the Times of India).  Now, pre-emption would dictate hitting your foe before they were able to attack: I wonder if there was such a pre-emptive strike on behalf of the Taliban and their allies?

This colonial and imperial process has produced resistance at every step – from those who fought Oliver Cromwell’s “pacification” of Ireland in the 1650s, through the great anti-colonial movements of the 20th century, to the resistance in Iraq today.

There’s even been a little from within the imperial countries themselves on occasion!

Direct colonial rule – with each major power more or less directly governing its own colonies – spread fastest in the 19th century.

Rees then points out that WW I and WW II were results of this competition (WW I was a direct competition, WW II was trying to settle scores).  The results were that Europe was pretty well beaten up and two new powers were top dogs.

The Russian revolutionary Nikolai Bukharin summed up the system accurately and concisely, “The anarchic structure of world capitalism is expressed in two facts: world industrial crises on the one hand, wars on the other…War in capitalist society is only one of the methods of capitalist competition, when the latter extends to the sphere of the world economy.”

Hmmm…seems pretty accurate, and its from Bukharin!  I wonder what they teach about him in the schools?

This bi-polar world, the world of the Cold War, lasted from 1945 to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989.

During this period two developments took place that decisively shaped the current, post-Cold War phase of imperialism.

Now, this next quote is really important, IMHO, as it explains the Stalinist states as state capitalism (not socialism…and the same can be said of ‘Communist’ China today):

First, the state capitalist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe (where the state combined the same roles that are played in the West by the private capitalists and the state), although they outstripped the West’s economic growth in the early phase of the Cold War, were ultimately undermined by their exclusion from the growing world market as it entered the long boom of the 1950s and 1960s.

The West won on the backs of the American taxpayer and…

While US arms spending propped up the Western market and prevented a return to 1930s-style recession it was other Western nations – especially Germany and Japan – whose domestic economy gained from the growth of the world market most because they spent less on arms.

The US was victorious over its Cold War enemy but it lost out to its Cold War allies.

Because of this…

The US is therefore pre-disposed towards using its unrivalled military superiority to redress its relative economic weakness. It is structurally compelled to think more often of using the stick rather than the carrot.

There is very little from either of the two major party candidates to indicate any real economic growth policy here in the US (and even if there were, the globalist corps would outsource any gains to increase their profits).  There is also very little from either of the two major party candidates to indicate any want to stop throwing around US power.  Just listen to them, and you’ll realize how the wool is being, ever so subtly, over the US public’s eyes.

This is the inner meaning of George Bush’s doctrine of the pre-emptive strike. It is the fundamental cause of the series of wars since 1989 in which the US has tried to defend its economic stake in the world, especially its access to oil, to intimidate its rivals and discipline its allies.

Why did BO pick Joe as VP?  Simple: Joe will be quite believable as a spokesman for intimidation than BO would ever allow himself to appear to be.

So far all the post-Cold War wars have been between major powers and much smaller states. Iraq, Serbia and Afghanistan are minnows in the world system compared to the great shark of the US.

Even so these wars have proved difficult to win and have divided the US from former allies.

Remember Serbia was the greater military power during the Yugoslav civil war.  Partisans have been able to slow down great war machines to an extent.  Iraq (2nd war) is a perfect example:  Before their military could be completely crushed, many of the troops left and melded into the society in general.  That’s, to a great extent, why the resistance has been so strong.

After the Cold War the US drove the eastern expansion of Nato so that it encroached onto much of Russia’s former territory by incorporating the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia as well as Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak Republics.

Rees then points out that Russia was almost certain to strike back due to this encroachment, and they did.  Thank the Gods Georgia was not part of NATO, or there’s be a hot war in Europe right now…or possibly the nukes would have already been flying.

The lesson of Russia’s defiance will be carefully watched everywhere from Latin America to China to Iran.

Maybe Putin’s actually been telling the truth to us all along (after all, why tell a lie when the truth works just as well).  A revitalized nuclear-armed-to-the-teeth Russia is probably someone we really don’t want to piss off.  But then, the two headed single imperialist neoliberal party probably doesn’t care.

The new imperialism that began with the end of the Cold War is now more dangerous than ever.

Remember this in the polling booth should we make it to November.  There are alternatives.

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    • Viet71 on August 25, 2008 at 12:34 am

    by something better for the uplifting of humans and the human spirit.

    Capitalism works well only when there are (a) unlimited resources, and (b) an unlimited dumping ground.

    We’re bumping up against both limits.

    Need a new Adam Smith.

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