Floundering of American Imperialist Hegemony

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Six months ago when US imperialism began its invasion of Iraq the ICC predicted that "far from resolving the crisis of American leadership, the current war can only take it to new levels"(Resolution on the International Situation, Point 11, 15th Congress of the ICC, March 2003). We said that the war in Iraq would lead to growing instability in the Middle East - in Iraq and Israel/Palestine in particular, that Iraq would become a quagmire for US imperialism, that far from solving the problems of the challenge to its imperialist hegemony, the US would face increasing difficulties throughout the world, and that the war would aggravate the economic crisis facing the American bourgeoisie at home. Events in Iraq (see Iraq: A Quagmire for US Imperialism, p.4), in Israel/Palestine (see p.5) have amply confirmed these predictions. Because events happen so quickly in the current period, it is critically important to understand the framework in which these events occur. There are perhaps six key elements to keep in mind: the impct of capitalist decomposition on imperialist tensions; the strategic response of US imperialism to the growing challenges to its hegemony; the contradictory impact of this strategy; the irrationality of war in the period of capitalist decadence, particularly in its phase of decomposition; the simultaneous existence of a tendency towards the formation of new blocs and the countervailing tendency of capitalist decomposition hindering the formation of blocs in the current period; and the acceleration of history.

Impact of decomposition on the imperialist terrain

The social impasse in the class struggle caused by the inability of the ruling class to impose its solution to the global economic crisis that emerged in the late 1960s - imperialist world war- and the inability of the proletariat to impose its solution - world revolution-triggered the onset of the decomposition of the capitalist system. One of the central manifestations of this decomposition was the collapse of Russian imperialism at the end of the 1980s.The breakdown of the bloc system in place since the end of World War II, as we have demonstrated often in various texts, ushered in a growing tendency towards chaos on the international level. The cement that had held nations together in the blocs, forcing them to subordinate their own narrow imperialist appetites for the good of the bloc in the confrontation with its rival - to accept the discipline imposed by the bloc leader - crumbled into dust during the 1990s. Each nation, no matter how insignificant its economic, political or military stature, was emboldened to increasingly play its own card on the imperialist terrain, to scheme for expansion at the expense of rivals, in a way that was unheard of for half a century during the cold war.

This tendency of "each for himself" on the imperialist level had drastic consequences for American imperialism, the nominal victor in the cold war, when Russian imperialism imploded in the beginning of the 1990s, because it signaled the emergence of a general tendency towards unprecedented challenges to US domination and hegemony emanating from its erstwhile allies. For half a century, US imperialist policy makers expected and received general obedience from its bloc members, even for decisions that were taken unilaterally in Washington. US imperialism became accustomed to blowing the whistle and everyone would fall in line, but now US imperialism would blow the whistle and its old allies would fall into line reluctantly, petulantly, or increasingly would not even listen. The American triumph in the cold war increasingly seemed to be a hollow victory. one that had opened a period of serious difficulties for American imperialism.

American imperialism's strategic response to its leadership crisis

The response to this growing crisis of US leadership led to a readjustment of American imperialist strategy during the 1990s. "Faced with the collapse of the rival Russian bloc at the end of the 80s, and with the rapid unraveling of its own Western bloc, US imperialism formulated a strategic plan which has, in the ensuing decade, revealed itself more and more openly. Confirmed as the only remaining superpower, the USA would do everything in its power to ensure that no new superpower - in reality no new imperialist bloc - could arise to challenge its 'New World Order'.(Resolution on the International Situation, Point 4, 15th Congress of the ICC, March 2003)

The Gulf War of 1991, triggered by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, a development which resulted from a cynical US manipulation of Saddam Hussein, in which the American ambassador to Iraq induced Saddam Hussein into invading Kuwait by giving an apparent green light to the invasion with an assurance that the US would not intervene in a border conflict "between Arab brothers," was designed by Washington to warn those who would challenge its hegemony in the post-cold war epoch and press-gang other powers into endorsing its military action, shouldering considerable financial burden of the war, and at the same time reminding those powers that the US was the world's only superpower and would call the shots in the "New World Order."

Contradictory Impact of US Policy

Illustrating another central characteristic of the current period, this successful imperialist offensive by US imperialism proved to be short-lived, provoking increasing resistance from its former allies, as German, French and even British imperialism challenged the US in the Balkans under the umbrella of UN legitimacy. As the Resolution pointed out:

"the more it sought to discipline its former allies, the more it provoked resistance and hostility, and the less able it was to recruit them for militaryoperations which they knew were ultimately aimed against them. Thus the phenomenon of the US being increasingly obliged to 'go it alone' in its adventures, relying less and less on 'legal' international structures such as the UN and NATO, which more and more functioned as obstacles to the US's plans."(International Situation Resolution, Point 5)

In this sense, the imperialist terrain is defined by growing chaos in international relations, deepening challenges to American domination, to which the US feels compelled to respond with the exercise of military power, more and more on its own (except with the support of a badly divided British bourgeoisie), which is always successful because of its massive military superiority, but quickly provokes increased resistance, aggravates the international situation and leads to renewed difficulties and challenges to its imperialist power. Whatever victories US imperialism achieves in this epoch, they are temporary and of increasingly short duration, before the onset of a new aggravated crisis.

Irrationality of War

Another important aspect of the framework of the current period is the irrationality of war in decadence, particular in its period of decomposition:

"The period of decomposition shows more clearly than ever the irratioinality of war in decadence - the tendency of its destructive dynamic to become autonomous and increasingly at variance with the logic of profit.The wars of decadence, unlike he wars of ascendancy, do not make economic sense. Contrary to the view that war is 'good' for the health of the economy, war today both expresses and aggravates its incurable sickness..

"War is the ruin of capital - both a product of its decline and a factor in its acceleration. The development of a bloated war economy does not offer a solution to the crisis of capitalism, as certain elements of the Italian Fraction thought in the 1930s. The war economy does not exist for itself but because capitalism in decadence is obliged to go through war after war after war, and to increasingly subsume the entire economy to the needs of war. This creates a tremendous drain on the economy because arms expenditure is fundamentally sterile. In this sense the collapse of the Russian bloc gives us a glimpse into the future of capital since the inability to sustain an ever-accelerating arms race was one of the key factors in its demise. And although this was a result deliberately pursued by the US bloc, today the USA itself is moving towards a comparable situation, even if it is at a slower pace. The present war in the Gulf, and more generally the whole 'war against terror' is linked to a vast increase of arms spending designed to totally eclipse the arms budgets of the rest of the world combined. But the damage that this insane project will inflict on the US economy is incalculable." (Point 20)

This understanding arms us against following prey to vulgar materialist errors of looking for crass economic motives in the unleashing of war in this period, a mistake made by various left communist and libertarian groups who see the war in Iraq as undertaken to boost oil profits of American corporations. In this sense the resolution noted:

"US military action there is not carried out on behalf of the oil companies: the oil companies are only allowed to get their pay off provided they fit in with the overall streategic plan, which includes the ability to shut off oil supplies to America's potetial enemies and thus throttle any military challenge before it begins. Germany and Japan in particular are far more dependent on Middle East oil than the USA."(Point 7)

Even in the short span of the past six months the total falsity of this mistaken view is apparent. The costs of the war is currently running $4 billion a month, and increasing sharply in the months ahead, far outweighs any boost in oil profits imaginable. If American imperialism's decision making policy on war were driven strictly by a crass balance sheet calculation, even Pres. Bush would have the decision to refrain from the invasion. The unfolding of events confirms our position that it is the geopolitical imperialist strategy of the US, which sees oil as a strategic commodity and in which the current US offensive in the Middle East and Central Asia strengthens Washington's ability to put pressure on Japan and especially on Europe, that explains why from the American point of view the disastrous economic costs of the war are worth the risks.

Constitution of New Blocs

Yet another significant element in this framework is the recognition of the constant tension between the tendency towards the constitution of new imperialist blocs and the countervailing tendency for each country to defend its own immediate interest.

"The resistance to US plans by an alliance between France, Germany, Russia and China shows that, faced with the massive superiority of the US, its main rivals have no choice but to band together against it. This confirms that the tendency towards the constitution of new imperialist blocs remains a real factor in the current situation. But it would be a mistake to confuse a tendency with an accomplished fact, above all because in the period of capitalist decomposition, the movement towards the formation of new blocs is being constantly obstructed by the counter-tendency for each country to defend its own immediate national interests above all else-by the tendency towards every man for himself."(Point 9)

Despite the fact that France, Germany, Russia and China could join together with varying degrees of resolve in opposing the US war plan last spring, in no way has this led to any acceleration of the process of bloc formation. With the war a fait accompli, the opponents of US imperialism moderated the venom of the verbal attacks on the US and made themselves open to some form of accommodation. China, for example, cooperated with the US in discussions with North Korea on the question of that country's nuclear program, even if China's position is not identical to the US.

Likewise, while Blair continues to make Britain Washington's strongest ally, the discomfort within the British bourgeoisie and the growing criticism of the Blair administration only confirms the resolution's prediction six months ago that "there is a growing unease with being too closely associated with US adventurism. The quagmire now developing in Iraq can only strengthen this unease." (Point 10)

Acceleration of History

As capitalism's global crisis has deepened in the past three decades, we have witnessed an acceleration of history, a tendency for events to unfold more quickly, for the intervals between open recessions for example to shorten, or between state attacks on the workers standard of living. In regard to US imperialism's difficulties in protecting its domination, this tendency has meant that the length of time between Washington's successes and the new challenges and difficulties it faces appears to shrink, aggravating the sense of crisis of leadership as perceived by the US, and accelerating still further the process by which world capitalism pushes humanity closer and closer to the abyss of barbarism.--JG