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Imperialism: policy option or death drive?

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When anti-war activists blame US imperialism or ‘globalisation’ as the cause of wars they usually mean the ‘power elite’ – the ‘neo-cons’ etc who are backed by the oil and arms industry. Imperialism and its wars are ‘bad’ policy options on the part of the US as a ‘world power’ which can be countered by world public opinion – the ‘second world power’’, or the ‘movement of movements’ as the World Social Forum has been called. For Marxists this conception of imperialism as ‘bad policy’ open to reform by an electoral alliance of workers, peasants and ‘good’ capitalists is a reactionary utopia. It is a utopia because imperialism needs wars to survive. It’s on a death drive and cannot be pacified. It is reactionary because it disarms the masses in the face of inevitable destruction and dooms the struggle for socialism. Real anti-imperialism for us does not mean making ‘good’ ‘bad policy’, but terminating the terminator.

There are a number of theories that have arisen in recent years claiming that the Marxist/Leninist concept of imperialism as the highest and final stage of capitalism is wrong.

They argue that the main forces that Lenin saw as driving imperialism to inevitable wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions, do not exist. The rise of finance capital, capital export, the growth of monopolies etc that doomed capitalism to destruction, have been surpassed by new developments such as the new economy that have rescued capitalism and made unlimited growth and the sharing of wealth possible. If this were true, then Marxism would cease to be relevant. Lenin’s theory that class politics is the extension of class economics would be empty phrases. Social classes would not longer exist and socialism as a post-capitalist dream would be made redundant by a just and benign capitalism.

These theorists say that globalisation has replaced imperialist contest between rival capitalist powers. Multilateral agreements between imperialist powers subordinate national interests to the global market and make national conflicts a thing of the past. It was easier to argue this during the 1980’s when the major powers were all allied to the US led ‘cold-war’, and the 1990’s when the UN and NATO officially fronted the wars against Iraq and Serbia. Whatever word is used to describe this ‘consensus’, national differences are now all accommodated under a US global hegemony where all states, including the US as the world’s biggest debtor, are dependent upon one another. Indeed some radicals, like Hardt and Negri in their book Empire published in 2000, say that the US is now so economically weak that it is no longer ‘hegemonic’.[1]

But what if the underlying strength of the US economy is in terminal decline?

What if to survive the US needs to turn its back on international agreements and attack its former allies? What if the US economy is in such a deep crisis that it is forced to revert to naked imperialist aggression on any state that threatens its ‘national interests’. A reversion to unilateral aggression is exactly what has happened since 9-11 under the Bush regime when the ‘world changed’. So the question must be asked: is this reversion an aberration? An aggressive militarist policy option driven by the narrow interests of one section of the US ruling class, the oil barons and arms industries? Or is this return to military occupations and recolonisations driven by a more deep-seated desperation on the part of US capital to survive at all costs? The answer to this question is critical because the solutions offered to this post 9-11 crisis depends on the perceived causes.

The globalisation theorists explain post-9-11 as an aberration. Already they say, the world has passed on. The new knowledge economy has created more wealth across national borders that can be redistributed in rising living standards in the developing world. The new capitalism in the US, Japan and EU does not need wars to make profits, but rather new technology and increasing labour productivity. The dynamic growth areas of the world economy are driven by multinational firms that invest, produce and sell in an integrated world market.

This ‘aberration’ must therefore be caused by a rogue element of the US ruling class that has taken power and used the military to grab scarce resources such as oil and natural gas to make big profits. For example, Chalmers Johnson’s recent book the Sorrows of Empire argues that the military have taken over the US state for this purpose. Chomsky’s analysis of US power is similar; the power elite uses its control of the media to manipulate public opinion to accept an aggressive foreign policy. If these arguments about the US as a ‘rogue state’ are correct, then mass mobilisations that reclaim control of the media and democratic institutions can theoretically regain control of the state for the people. But what if these arguments are not correct and imperialism is not a policy option but a death drive.

The reality is that imperialism is in a life or death crisis.

In the 1970s the world economy experienced a classic crisis of overproduction due to falling profits. Profits fell not because they were squeezed by rising wages but because the corporates could not increase the rate of exploitation fast enough to return a profit on the massive investments that went into plant, machinery and raw materials.[2] To restore profits it was necessary to drastically cut the price of wages (variable capital) and raw materials and machines (constant capital) by whatever means. In the 1890s and 1930s the world economy revived only because depressions and wars drastically cut the costs of plant and machinery and of labour.[3]

In the years since the 1970s ‘crash’, the US economy has failed to revive its economy to outcompete its rivals. The new economy has seen some increases in output and profits, but not sufficient to outperform Japan in cars and China in consumer goods. The recent ‘jobless’ upturn is less to do with new technology replacing jobs than with fewer workers working harder and longer (i.e. increased hours and intensity of work). There has been no massive reduction in the costs of wages or raw materials and the economy has been kept afloat by state borrowing and spending. The money borrowed from its rivals, particularly Japan, means that the US is now heavily in debt. Therefore the US economy is experiencing a deepening crisis of insufficient profits from which it can only survive by embarking on open imperialist wars to recolonise other nations, plundering their raw materials and attacking workers wages and rights at home and abroad to reduce labour costs. As Marxists say, the bosses’ crisis is being solved on the backs of the world’s workers.

It is not the policy of a militarist fraction of the US ruling class that causes war, but that of the whole US ruling class. Imperialism is not an aberration but a necessary result of capitalist crisis today.

So how does the whole ruling class benefit from war? Some corporates benefit directly, while others benefit from the flow-on effects. Of course the military and war industries do gain directly from imperialist wars, but production of arms and munitions is consumed unproductively (apart from R&D spin-offs in other sectors e.g. satellites, jeeps etc) and cannot revive the US economy as a whole. The Bush family and prominent members of the cabinet like Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice profit as shareholders of corporations that supply the military, and the workers in the arms industry earn wages that enter into the GDP – a sort of ‘military Keynesianism’.[4] But military expenditure does not otherwise add value to the economy. A good analogy would be to say that war benefits some bosses like the production of luxury items such as fast cars and jewelry. Theories such as the Permanent Arms Economy promoted by the Cliffites to account for the post-war long boom are fundamentally flawed in failing to recognise this fact.[5]

However unlike luxury cars, planes and tanks can be used to invade and occupy other countries and expropriate their resources and labour supply. The US has seized Iraq’s oil wealth and created hundreds of military bases in the Middle East and central Asia to oversee the plunder of natural resources. In its own poodle-like fashion, the UK has rechristened Gaddafi the former ‘terrorist fiend’ as the west’s ‘loyal friend’ in order to get access to Libya’s oil and gas fields.[6] While the military and oil magnates get the biggest share of this colonial bounty, the flow on effect of the war to the whole US and UK economies will be a vital supply of oil and gas at cheap prices that will lower the price of constant capital (fuel for industry) as well as variable capital (gas for workers cars) not available to their EU and Japanese rivals.[7] At the same time the US can create client states like Bolivia, or protectorates like Bosnia, Kosovo[8] and Iraq, impose the US dollar as the main currency, and threaten to bomb any state that wants to switch from the dollar to the Euro or yen as a rival to the ‘petrodollar’.[9]

We see that the imperialist states’ militarist policies are dictated by the interests of all capitalists.

The big banks and corporations all benefit from imperialist wars and plunder. What Lenin identified as finance capital was the big banks fusing their interests with the big corporations, and becoming monopolies, that is, combines or cartels that dominated whole industries. The monopolies were vertical (like Rockefellers Standard Oil or Carnegie’s Steel Corporation in the US) or horizontal (like the big German cartels) conglomerates that bought up their rivals and set the prices of production in that industry. Because they were national monopolies they had to compete with their rivals in other nations backed by their states. It was this rivalry that led to the export of capital to colonies to gain cheap raw materials and labour and the inevitable wars to divide and rule the whole world market. In what sense do today’s multinational corporations remain monopolies dominated by finance capital which look to their nation states to go to war in their interests as the ‘national interest’?

Monopoly finance capital is now centralised mainly in the hegemonic imperialist power, the USA.

First to the question of finance capital, then that of monopoly, then the question of national interest to show that state monopoly capitalism is alive, but not well.

At the heart of monopoly is finance capital. After Lenin’s death 20th imperialism created state capitalism to survive. Private banks became regulated by the central banks which took over the management of money capital to rescue the corporate sector. Without massive state intervention and ‘military Keynesianism’ after WW1, the big US corporations would have collapsed. The ‘new deal’ like the Keynesian welfare state’ was mainly about benefits to business.[10] Therefore we can say that far from being outdated, finance capital is even more concentrated and centralised today than it was in Lenin’s day.

Today the giant US Federal Bank along with World Bank and International Monetary Fund monopolises global finance capital through the bond market and international credit. The ‘Fed’ creates dollars which are pumped into US business which it then borrows from its rival EU and Japanese money markets in the form of US bonds. But the cost of its debt is offset by the advantages of the dollar as the main international currency. Private monopoly banks, such as Morgan/Chase, BOA and Citibank, are the biggest shareholders in the World Bank and IMF and dominate the loans made to the ‘‘third world’. But such is the crisis of overproduction, most ‘capital’ today is not invested in production but in speculation as ‘fictitious capital. Not only is finance capital concentrated into giant monopolies in the form of central banks and a few giant corporate banks they are all centralised in heart of the US imperialist state. Therefore what became known as ‘state monopoly capitalism’ in Lenin’s day is still the dominant reality in the global economy.

The crisis of overproduction manifests itself as the ‘risks’ associated with anarchic capitalism destroying the forces of production. Capitalism’s quest to plunder the third world is now in its final phase of world domination –exhausting the resources of the former soviet bloc. The end of the Soviet Union has opened up central Asia. There and elsewhere, the race for scarce resources is hotting up the competition between the imperialist powers.

Today capitalist production is highly dependent on non-renewable resources, notably oil, whose supply is rapidly running out. The big corporations are oil pushers, enforcers, or oil junkies.[11] Those who control these scarce resources benefit from ‘rent’ i.e. that is the premium that can be extracted from those who do not own this resource. Capitalism today is an asset-stripping death machine. The risks associated with this drive to survive explains the behavior of all the players.

The US finances its military machine and arms industry to win control in the rent-seeking war game. This is the case in Iraq, Central Asia and Latin America. These are all military fronts in the war for oil, gas or other vital resources. But even such looting of vital resources and the massive military subsidies of the imperialist states, does not make them cheap enough to restore rising rates of surplus value and return acceptable profits on the vast capital stockpile awaiting investment in production. As capitalism drives down its path of destruction it cannot save itself.

There are inherent limits to the gains from capitalist production which is simultaneously destroying the forces of production.

The recent controversy about the US ‘jobless recovery’ illustrates this point. While thousands of migrants flood into the US to fill menial service jobs, productive industry shifts over to ‘lean production’ by exporting jobs to cheap labour countries. In Mexico or China, wage goods (clothes, white goods, electronic goods, cars etc) are produced more cheaply because of low wage costs combined with global lean production methods (cast-off production lines e.g. Korean or Indian cars). This is the same export of capital recognised by Lenin. But now it is up against more fundamental limits set by rock bottom wages as well as productivity caps.

The crisis of the period from 1914 to 1945 was hugely destructive in terms of the devaluation of variable and constant capital. Only out of such a destructive firestorm could the post-war boom emerge. But that boom was limited to the imperialist world and did not extend to the third world and the gap between ‘north and south’ widened dramatically. The accumulation of capital at the centre is now so huge that only a massive destruction of capital on a world scale will restore a return to profitable production. Windfalls like the collapse of the Soviet world extended the capitalist market to its full global reach. But while it created huge chunks of ‘new capital’ to add the world supply, it did not create sufficient means of making sufficient profits on that capital.

Thus early 21st century imperialism is unable to generate enough super-profits to keep pace with its rising capital stock. All the ‘t-shirts in China’ cannot sustain sufficient profits in the US let alone rising living standards of labour in the US. With the decline in new surplus-value from production, potential money capital becomes merely footloose money that devalues unless new sources of ‘value’ can be found. Increasingly finance capital ceases to be the productive investment that drives the development of industry and instead becomes ‘fictitious’ capital which is valueless because it cannot exchanged for commodities and must be gambled away on the prices of commodities. Take the derivatives market of ‘casino capitalism’.
 
Morgan/Chase the biggest international bank now has 84 times its real capital assets (stockholders funds) gambled on ‘derivatives’.

‘Derivatives’ are bets on future prices. Derivatives are a form of insurance to cover risks of production in a high-risk, unstable, crisis-prone anarchic market. That’s why 80% of such bets are on future interest rates (the price of money). For example futures brokers ‘borrow’ company shares for a fee, sell them to create cash and agree to sell the shares back at a given price. They use the money to speculate on currencies etc, and hope that the shares will be worth less when they buy them back so they can make a profit. This creates huge amounts of debt with no share asset backing. The instability in the market is itself greatly increased by the billions of hot money gambled on future prices every day.

Moreover it is workers that stand to lose most in the casino economy. For every George Soros who may lose billions of fictitious capital there are millions who lose their life savings. The finance mafia bets the savings of the ‘new middle class’ held in pension funds and bank shares. Marx talked about joint stock companies borrowing from small savers as a form of ‘socialising the costs’ of capital. Small savers would always be wiped out in any credit crash. Soros lost millions in 1998 when Russia defaulted on its debt. Morgan/Chase was similarly exposed to the Argentina collapse in 2001 even though the government froze the accounts of small savers (ahoristas) while at the same time allowed the big banks to take their money out of the country.

Such financial crashes destroy the jobs and savings of those workers who have savings. 19th and 20th century imperialist powers justified their smash and grab expansionism by selling it to their working class as a defence of the national interest. Britain had its ‘civilising mission’ and the US had its defence of the ‘free world’. All used ‘international relations’ to pacify and buy off the rising working class challenge to the power of capital. Marx, Engels and Lenin recognised the importance of colonial super-profits, which when trickled down to the ‘new middle class’ bribed it to support imperialism and to turn organised labour into cheerleaders for imperialist wars. Now 21st century imperialism cannot afford to buy off its workers and runs the ultimate risk of eliminating its support base in the ‘labour aristocracy’.

21st century imperialism cannot afford political buyouts so funds patriotic panics.

While it can’t afford to buy patriotism anymore imperialist states appeal to ‘national values’. Foreigners are blamed for taking jobs and cutting wages so that the labour movement becomes geared up to support wars against enemy aliens at home and abroad. As imperialist rivalry hots up trade protection becomes national protectionism in which workers are enlisted to fight the ‘enemy’. But as the costs of imperialist crises and wars become thrust onto the backs of workers (workers welfare axed while corporate welfare – especially oil and war industries – climbs, jobs and wages lost, workers in uniform lose their lives in the war for oil etc) the political class consensus that drove the post-war boom and which has been kept intact from the victory of capitalism over ‘communism, now becomes fractured at home and abroad. Workers and peasants see themselves as pawns in a US corporate war game for world domination. The level of anti-US sentiment outside the US is rising to massive proportions. And the class conflicts in the outside world are now being reproduced inside the US and the other imperialist powers.

This means that resistance in many forms is beginning to emerge. The WSF is a sort of ‘good cop’ imperialism that promotes the illusion that imperialism as a bad policy option that can be globally challenged and reformed. Hardt and Negri’s concept of Empire provides a popular version of this ideological position. There is a reformist labour international around Castro, including Chavez and Lula that promotes social democratic regimes coming together as an international counter-weight to US rogue imperialism. But the severity of the crisis imposed on the masses is rapidly surpassing the capacity of the reformists and their leftwing cheerleaders in the WSF to strangle the exploding resistance movements. Castro, Lula and Chavez attempts to negotiate with imperialism can only be at the expense of their worker and peasant supporters. Once we can see that 21st century imperialism is on the road to destruction, then we understand that only a world working class mobilisation for a global socialist society can offer an alternative. The cost of anarchic date-expired capitalism in the 21st century will be more wars and destruction unless it is replaced by socialism! 

From Class Struggle 55 April-May 2004


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Written by raved

January 6, 2010 at 8:06 pm

QUEBEC AND THE YANKEE DOLLAR

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Mass protests against the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Quebec in April continued the upsurge of the anti-globalisation coalition around the world. The target this time was the re-colonisation or ‘dollarisation’ of Latin America. We assess the prospects for turning this rising populist protest into a revolutionary movement.

Seattle, Washington, Davos, Prague, Melbourne, Nice, Quebecand the list goes on to Barcelona, Genoa and beyond. These are the locations of past or future anti-capitalist protests of meetings of the world’s rich organisations and clubs such as the WTO, IMF, and World Economic Forum. At every protest a coalition of left groups, greens, anarchists, populists, and NGO’s have joined forces with some elements of the unions to physically confront and attempt to prevent these meetings of the rich going ahead.

Quebec was the most recent. So what happened in Quebec that made a difference? The authorities put up a wire fence and succeeded in keeping the protesters away from the venue. But the media focused upon the protesters and not the agenda of the rich club. We learned that the purpose of the meeting of all the Finance Ministers of North and South America (except Cuba which does not meet the US definition of ‘democracy’) was to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas or FTAA.

The FTAA is modeled on NAFTA which was set up in 1992 to link Mexico, Canada and the US in one common market. Since 1992 the effects of NAFTA are clear. Mexico and Canada have been re-colonised by the US. NAFTA allows US firms to take Mexican and Canadian Governments to court if they pass legislation that limits profits. For example Metalclad Corporation got US$16 million from the Mexican Government because it was not allowed to dispose of waste and cause a public health hazard! FTAA will be the same only more. Today the US has a 75% share of the economy of the Americas. Under the FTAA it will gain an even larger share. The whole of the America’s will now become “Amerika”.

This means that as the US turns of the screws by re-colonising the America’s the class struggle will also become united across “Amerika”. Workers in the North and South will now fight alongside one another in one big class, rather than be divided by nationalist politics which weakens and destroys all progessive movements.

Already there are numerous examples of the formation of anti-free trade union and NGO alliances in the Americas. The first Summit of the Peoples of the Americas was held in Santiago Chile in April 1998. Since then many networks and coalitions have been built. Recently a top level coalition the Hemispheric Social Alliance was formed. However, these forces are still mainly international alliances of national organisations.

This is the legacy of the nationalist reformist politics of the post-war period. On the Left the legacy has been to tail bourgeois nationalism. That is why the deadly patriotic front tradition of Stalinism, Maoism, and Guerillaism that accompanied the nationalist politics of the post-war period must now be countered by an increasingly internationalist struggle that has always at the centre of the Trotskyist movement. For not only is the FTAA an instrument for re-colonising the America, under the WTO, World Bank and other agreements, globalisation brings the same free trade regimes to Asia and Africa. The potential for a global anti-capitalist movement to fight to unite workers in many countries is now a real prospect.

This is a big happening. Most of the left has become caught up in the enthusiasm of this struggle. The SWP thinks it’s the biggest thing to hit the class struggle since the Vietnam War. The SWP has split from its sister organisation the ISO in the US because it claims the ISO does not recognise the importance of the anti-capitalist phenomenon.

The SWP thinks that this “new, new left” opens up the opportunity for a rapid regroupment of the left. To prove this is possible the SWP is having talks with the LCR in France, part of the International Secretariat, the main ‘Trotskyist tendency’. Both are prepared to ‘sideline’ their differences over the defence of the former SU and focus on the main tasks of today.

However, neither of these tendencies has a record of struggle that gives us confidence in their leadership of a new regroupment of the revolutionary left. They both have a history of jumping onto bandwagons and calling them new ‘vanguards’ to replace the traditional labour movement. The current bandwagon of the anti-capitalist movement is a ‘youth bandwagon’, which has come around several times before in the post-war period. Each time youth were backed as more revolutionary than workers. The most famous was the ‘new left’ of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The ‘new left’ was more liberal than Marxist. Arising out of the post 1956 de-Stalinization it was a pacifist, humanist socialism, based mainly in the educated youth of the US and Europe. It protested the Vietnam War and rampant consumer capitalism, but it never joined forces with the conservative, established labour movement. Neither survived the austerity of the 1970’s nor the neo-liberal attacks of the 1980’s and 1990’s as a force for change. Some of the more colourful leaders of the new left became establishment figures but most dropped out of left politics.

If the new left failed to unite with workers and build a revolutionary party at a time when labour was relatively strong, what will the new new left achieve at a time when labour is weak, and the power of the US hegemonic apparatus is on the rise? The weakness of the old new left will be compounded by the absence of any strong labour movement and left politics to graft onto the new generation of youth who have no history of class struggle. As Trotsky said of the late 1930’s the crisis of capitalism is the crisis of revolutionary leadership. Today the crisis of capitalist globalisation is even more acutely the crisis of revolutionary leadership.

The class basis of resistance has to be re-created from the base up. The anti-capitalist bandwagon cannot side step rebuilding the labour unions by taking a cyberspace detour. Without the unions there is no ‘school for revolution’ (Trotsky). This is because only by fighting capital in the space of production is it possible to bring workers’ power to bear on capital.

Taking on the state machine on the streets and barricades can only win when workers control the military and state forces. This will not happen until workers build militia to defend their workplaces from strike breaking and state repression. Hyperreal fictions that reality is anywhere but production are scenarios for disaster.

So today as never before, the anti-capitalist movement needs revolutionary Marxist theory and practice. The new generations need to learn the lessons of successful revolutions and failed revolutions. That is why we have no confidence in the SWP or LCR as a new leadership. Both tendencies never learnt the lessons of the Bolsheviks and liquidated themselves as vanguard parties in the post-war period. The SWP rejected the defence of the SU the supreme test of Bolshevism. The IS rejected the working class vanguard for a number of non-worker vanguards. Neither can claim to even recognise the roots of their problems. So they cannot learn from their mistakes.

The basic lessons are:

class agency; class independence; and the democratic centralist party. Lets briefly define each of these.

  • Class Agency: only the working class can lead an anti-capitalist revolution. This is because the working class produces surplus-value and can use its power to stop production. Thus workers must build workplace organisations and united unions across international borders to control production.
  • Class Independence: the working class must lead all other oppressed classes (e.g. peasants) and groups (poor, unemployed, gay etc) in the struggle for socialism without making any concessions to the bourgeoisie or other hostile classes. The united front is counter-posed to the popular front.
  • Democratic centralist Party: the working class becomes an agency for revolution only when it is led by a revolutionary vanguard party organised on a democratic centralist basis. Democratic centralism in Lenin’s view allows the party to unite theory and practice in the struggle and constantly test its program for revolution.
  • Each of these lessons/principles of Bolshevism can be applied to the anti-capitalist movement today in the following way:

  • Class Agency: Many in the anti-capitalist movement do not see capitalism as about classes. They see it as a coalition of social movements that cut across classes. (e.g. the famous reference to the Zapatistas being viewed as gay, feminist, union, indigenous, black etc depending upon which aspect is identified with by any given social movement.) This pluralist concept of oppression/social movements has be critiqued by class analysis and a coalition built based upon working class leadership.
  • Class Independence: Working class independence becomes the basis for building the movement. Instead of confronting MNC capital at conventions and on the streets, workers should unite internationally to fight capitalism on the job. The target of free trade can then be replaced by the target of the MNC’s plants in a number of countries. Instead of entering popular or patriotic fronts (eg Mexico) to fight ‘free trade’ (which is only a symptom of the weakness of workers to reject low wages and conditions) international united fronts to win concessions from MNC’s in every country can be formed.
  • Democratic Centralist Party: Within the united fronts in which workers organisations take the lead, there has to be a no holds barred fight among revolutionary tendencies to create a revolutionary party on the model of the Bolshevik party. Patriotic frontists, reformists, nationalists, opportunists, ultralefts etc. have to be confronted and defeated in the struggles in the same way the Bolsheviks defeated the Mensheviks and ultralefts.
  • Turn the anti-capitalist movement into a
    Revolutionary Communist International!
    From Class Struggle, No 39 June-July 2001

    Chomsky’s blurred Vision [February 1999]

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    Noam Chomsky recently visited New Zealand as a guest of the Peace Foundation. He spoke to overflowing audiences eager to hear his critique of the US role in imposing the neo-liberal New World Order on the rest of the world. While Chomsky has a long track record in exposing the lies and hypocrisy of the US in its exercise of power, he cannot explain why the US behaves like this. Nor can he explain where we go from here, or what to do. We argue that Chomsky’s vision is blurred.

    The core of Chomsky’s argument is the US drive to dominate the world in the post-WW2 period by subordinating the rest of the world to its global plan. fact the beginnings of globalisation. The world was partitioned so that the developing countries would serve as suppliers of raw materials and labour for the developed countries. This exploitation of the third world required political policies that did not allow the populations in these countries to opt out of this global plan. The IMF and World Bank and its more recent offspring NAFTA, WTO the MAI etc, were the instruments of this plan. Against this third world nationalism backed by the Soviet Union was identified as the main enemy. US backed coups and the cold war to isolate and ultimately destroy the Soviet Union were the tactics designed to keep this global plan on track. Chomsky’s writings over the last 30 years are really no more than documentation of the application of these policies in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.

    In a recent article in the New Left Review (No 230 July/August 1998) Chomsky develops this analysis further. He argues that the mechanisms for imposing this global plan are increasingly secret and outside democratic control. NAFTA and the MAI are examples of new agreements designed to force small states to accept trade and investment on the US terms that were conceived in secret. Resistance to these agreements only arose after their existence was ‘leaked’. On the MAI Chomsky states: the MAI “would constitute a major attack on democracy; it would shift the decision-making power over social and economic affairs even further into the hands of private tyrannies that operate in secret, unaccountable to the public. Corporations had been granted the rights of immortal persons by radical judicial activism early this century; but the MAI grants them the rights of states” (p.25).

    Chomsky concludes: “The long-term goal of such initiatives is clear enough to anyone with open eyes: an international political economy which is organised by powerful states and secret bureaucracies whose primary function is to serve the concentrations of private power, which administer markets through their internal operations, through networks of corporate alliances, including the intra-firm transactions that are mislabeled ‘trade’. They rely on the public for subsidy, for research and development, for innovation and for bail-outs when things go wrong. They rely on the powerful states for protection from dangerous ‘democracy openings’. In such ways, they seek to ensure that the ‘prime beneficiaries’ of the world’s wealth are the right people; the smug and prosperous ‘Americans’; the ‘domestic constituencies’ and their counterparts elsewhere.” (p.27)

    But what causes this power surge, and what do we do about it? Where do we go from here? Chomsky is a radical democrat; some would say an anarchist or libertarian socialist. He is certainly hostile to Marxism and Communism, which he associates with the Soviet Union. His solutions are to rally the citizenry to the cause of democracy and to bring these power plays under the control of the people. “There is no reason to doubt that it (this excessive power) can be controlled, even within existing formal institutions of parliamentary democracy (my emphasis). These are not the operations of any mysterious economic laws; they are human decisions that are subject to challenge, revision and reversal. They are also decisions made within institutions, state and private. They have to face the test of legitimacy, as always; and if they do not meet that test they can be replaced by others that are more free and just, exactly as has happened throughout history.” (p.27)

    Chomsky’s logic is classic social democrat. Once the masses are informed, and reject the exercise of arbitrary power, then they can use the institutions of bourgeois democracy to “challenge, revise and reverse” such power. Here Chomsky detaches the state (and private) institutions from the ‘political economy’. Lenin said that politics is concentrated economics. Chomsky reverses the power flow from ‘political’ to the ‘economic’. There are no ‘mysterious economic laws’ he says. There is just the zero-sum game of a struggle for scarce resources. Who wins this struggle has the power. Therefore economics becomes reduced to politics – to decisions taken in secret, that can however be exposed and made public. So economic problems can be resolved by means of realising the ideal of parliamentary democracy.

    What’s missing from this analysis is any understanding of the economic social relations that motivate the power struggle. Already under capitalism, social relations exist depending upon whether one owns the means of production or not. Therefore power flows from the ownership of private property that enables the capitalist class to force wage-labour to work and produced surplus value, to politics. This power relationship cannot be reversed or revised by parliament. In fact parliament functions to defend this power relationship by defending private property. Parliament can respond to democratic demands only when private property is not challenged. But once workers become ‘informed’ i.e. class conscious, and begin to ‘challenge, revise and reverse’ existing power relations, the threat to the property relations, upon which such power rests, will ensure that the state renounces its democratic trappings and imposes direct rule upon its subjects.

    That’s why in the postwar period that Chomsky documents, no successful challenge to US power by means of parliamentary institutions has occurred inside or outside the US. The only successful challenges, all of which failed ultimately, arose from the exercise of non-democratic challenges; that is challenges that did not result from the existence of parliamentary democracy. They arose either from undemocratic elite opposition, such as that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, or from mass struggles that by-passed the trappings of formal parliamentary democracy – street protests or civil disobedience in the US, or popular uprisings and mass movements such as in Cuba, Vietnam, Palestine, etc. Nor can it be argued that these social movements have succeeded in ‘renewing’ parliamentary democracy. The fate of the ex-SU and other so-called ‘socialist’ states proves this fact. Whatever the failings of so-called ‘socialist’ regimes – their non-democratic and bureaucratic nature etc – the return to ‘democracy and free markets’ is an unmitigated disaster; unmitigated by any exercise of democratic rights in moderating the devastating impact of the market.

    The failure of these radical movements which threatened to overturn bourgeois states is not due to their non-democratic form, but due to their suppression by the military might of imperialism in the name of ‘democracy’. Therefore, it is naive and ultimately self-defeating for popular movements to have illusions in parliamentary democracy. The foundation of ‘actually existing capitalism’, as Chomsky calls it, is not an aberrant concentration of power that can be corrected by democratic process. No it is the underlying property relations, defended by the capitalist state, which can only be “challenged, revised and reversed” by extending the struggle for democracy to socialist revolution. Smashing the capitalist state, and creating a planned economy in which production is for need and not profits.

    From Class Struggle, No 25, Dec 1998-Feb 1999


    Written by raved

    August 26, 2007 at 10:51 pm