Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Monday, October 06, 2014

Alex Callinicos on the multiple crises of imperialism

If the United States remains the command centre of global capitalism, a multiplicity of crises has been flashing up on its screens in the past few months. Let’s consider them in ascending order of importance from the perspective of US decision makers. First, there was Israel’s latest war on Gaza—not a crisis for Washington, more the kind of violent outburst through which a kind of equilibrium is re-established, but for growing numbers of people around the world an outrage and a crime. Secondly, there was the war—now halted by an uneasy ceasefire—between the pro-Western government in Kiev and Russian-backed forces in south eastern Ukraine. Thirdly, there is the US bombing campaign to halt the advance of the jihadi group that calls itself the Islamic State, but which we will continue to call ISIS, in Iraq and Syria. And, finally—not yet a crisis, but potentially the most serious conflict—there’s the increasingly intense interstate competition in East Asia in response to China’s growing power...
For revolutionaries, opposing Obama’s bombing campaign—and whatever other military actions follow—should be straightforward. (We should also, of course, oppose NATO expansion in Central and Eastern Europe.) But this opposition needs to be informed by an understanding that the latest US intervention in the Middle East takes place against the background of a renewal of inter-imperialist rivalries on a scale not seen since the end of the Cold War. Anti-imperialism during that era required, not simply opposing our “own” imperialism, but also refusing to prettify the actions of its rival and acknowledging that it too operates according to an imperialist logic. The same stance is required today, with the complication that today we are seeing multi-polar interstate competition. This is clearest in East Asia. On a global scale, the US remains the only world power, but it faces serious regional challenges from Russia and China, and within the Western bloc Germany and Japan are newly assertive.
Grasping this complexity is not an academic exercise. If we assign a “progressive” role to America’s rivals, we lose hold of the thread of class struggle. The main antagonism in the world becomes that between states rather than classes. But, beyond their real conflicts of interest, all the leading capitalist states are united by their common dependence on the exploitation of wage labour. As Lenin and Luxemburg understood so well in 1914, the critique of the imperialist system is an essential political tool in uniting workers against capital.

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