This report is written within the framework of the resolution on the international situation adopted by the 24th ICC Congress and more particularly on the following points (emphasised in bold):
“8. While the advance of capitalist decomposition, alongside the chaotic sharpening of imperialist rivalries, primarily takes the form of political fragmentation and a loss of control by the ruling class, this does not mean that the bourgeoisie can no longer resort to state totalitarianism in its efforts to hold society together. (...) The election of Biden, supported by a huge mobilisation of the media, parts of the political apparatus and even the military and the security services, express this real counter-tendency to the danger of social and political disintegration most clearly embodied by Trumpism. In the short term, such “successes” can function as a brake on mounting social chaos.
9. The evident nature of the political and ideological decomposition in the world’s leading power does not mean that the other centres of world capitalism are able to constitute alternative fortresses of stability (...)
12. Within this chaotic picture, there is no doubt that the growing confrontation between the US and China tends to take centre stage. The new administration has thus demonstrated its commitment to the “tilt to the east” (...).”
This framework aims to understand the events of the last months in order to contribute reflection around the three following questions:
1. Where are we regarding the decline of American hegemony?
2. Has China been able to draw an advantage from this period?
3. What is the dominant tendency today on the level of imperialist confrontations?
1. The decline of American hegemony and the polarisation of US/Chinese tensions
“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 ICC Congress, 2003, International Review 113). The history of the last 30 years has been characterised by a systematic decline of American leadership despite its persistent policy of trying to maintain its hegemonic position in the world.
1.1 A brief look at the decline of American hegemony
Different stages have characterised the efforts of the United States to maintain its leadership faced with evolving threats. It is also marked by internal dissensions within the American bourgeoisie on which policies to undertake, and this will also accentuate these dissensions.
a) The “New World Order” under the direction of the United States (Bush Senior and Clinton: 1990-2001)
President Bush Senior utilised the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in order to mobilise a large military coalition around the United States to “punish” Saddam Hussein. The first Gulf War aimed to make an “example”: faced with a world being swamped by chaos and “each for themselves” it was a matter of imposing a minimum of order and discipline, and, in the first place, on the most important countries of the ex-Western Bloc. The sole remaining superpower tried to impose on the “international community” a “new world order” under its aegis not only because it was the only one that had the means but also because it is the country which has most to lose from a world in disorder.
However, it could only take up this role by more tightly constraining the whole of the world in the steely grip of militarism and barbaric warfare, as in the bloody civil war in ex-Yugoslavia where it had to counter the imperialist appetites of the European countries (Germany, Britain, France, etc.) by imposing a “Pax Americana” in the region (Dayton Accords, December 1995).
b) The United States as the “World Cop” (Bush Junior: 2001-2008)
The attacks by al-Qaida on September 11 2001 led President Bush Junior to unleash a “War against Terror” in Afghanistan and above all Iraq in 2003. Despite all the pressure and the use of “fake news” aiming to mobilise the “international community” behind it against the “Axis of Evil”, the United States failed to mobilise the other imperialisms against the “Gangster State” of Saddam and invaded almost alone apart from Tony Blair’s Britain, its only significant ally.
The setback of these interventions, underlined by the retreat from Iraq (2011) and Afghanistan (2021), demonstrates the incapacity of the United States to play the role of World Cop, imposing its law on the world. On the contrary, the “War against Terror” opened wide the Pandora’s Box of decomposition in these regions, exacerbating the expansion of every man for himself, which has been particularly shown by a multiplication of imperialist ambitions all over the place: countries such as China and Russia, Iran of course, but also Turkey, Saudi Arabia, even the Gulf Emirates and Qatar. The growing impasse of the policy of the United States and the aberrant flight into military barbarity has demonstrated the net weakening of its world leadership.
The Obama administration attempted to reduce the political catastrophe created by Bush (Bin Laden’s execution in 2011 underlined the absolute technological and military superiority of the United States) and to focus more and more clearly on the rise of China as the principal danger for American hegemony This “pivot” has unleashed intense debates with its bourgeoisie and its state apparatus.
c) The policy of “America First” (Trump and essentially followed by Biden: 2017-)
The policy of “America First” on the imperialist level, opened up by Trump from 2017, meant in reality the official recognition of the retreat of American imperialist policy over the last 25 years: “The American response started by Obama taken on and amplified by Trump by other means represents a turning point in American politics. The defence of its interests as a national state now means embracing the tendency towards every man for himself that dominates imperialist relations: the United States is moving from being the gendarme of the world order to being the main agent of every man for himself, of chaos, of questioning the world order established since 1945 under its auspices.” (23rd Congress of the ICC, Resolution on the International Situation, International Review 164).
While this demonstrates the limits of operations based on “boots on the ground”, given the problems of mobilising masses of workers into large-scale engagements and consequent casualties that a major military deployment implies (Bush already had this difficulty in mobilising for the war in Iraq), above all it goes in tandem with a growing polarisation and sharpened aggression towards China which tends to be identified more and more as the principal danger. If this position was discussed within the Obama administration and if still more tensions appeared on the question within the Trump administration, between those who wanted to take on the “gangster states” such as Iran (Pompeo, Kushner) and those concentrating on the “major Chinese danger” (secret services and military), the focus on this last option is incontestably the central axis of Biden’s foreign policy. Concentrating its forces on military and technological competition with China is a strategic choice for the United States with a view to maintaining or even increasing its supremacy and defending its position as the “Godfather” faced with the gangsters (China and, subordinately, Russia) which most directly threaten its hegemony. Already as a world gendarme, the United States exacerbated warfare, chaos and each for themselves; its present policy is no less destructive, quite the contrary.
1.2. Polarisation of tensions around the South China Sea
The pivot of America towards China and the consequent redeployment of forces initiated by the Trump administration have been fully taken up by Biden’s administration. The latter has not only maintained the aggressive economic measures against China set in motion up by Trump, but it has ramped up the pressure through an aggressive policy:
- on the policy level: defence of Uyghur rights and Hong Kong; diplomatic and commercial rapprochement with Taiwan; accusations of information technology piracy against China:
- at the military level in the South China Sea through explicit and spectacular military actions over the last months: a multiplication of military exercises involving the American fleet and those of its allies; alarmist reports on the imminent threat of Chinese intervention in Taiwan; the presence in Taiwan of special US forces in order to strengthen the unity of the Taiwanese elite; conclusion of the new AUKUS accord between the United States, Australia and Britain which sets up a military coordination explicitly oriented against China; Biden’s pledge to support Taiwan in the event of Chinese aggression.
Taiwan has always played an important role in the strategy of the United States towards China. During the Cold War it constituted an important element of the containment of the Soviet Bloc; in the 1990’s, and in the beginning of the 2000s, it constituted a workshop for globalised capitalism, into which China was also integrated. But with the growth in power of the latter the outlook changed and Taiwan played a new geo-strategic role in blocking access to the west Pacific for Chinese vessels. Moreover, on a strategic level, “in effect the foundries on the island produce the major part of semi-conductors of the latest generation, indispensable components of the world’s digital economy (smartphones connections, artificial intelligence, etc.)” Le Monde diplomatique, October 2021.
For its part China has reacted furiously to these political and military pressures, particularly those around Taiwan: organisation of massive and threatening naval and aerial manoeuvres around the island; the publication of alarmist studies indicating that “the risk of war has never been so high”, or the release of plans for a surprise attack against the island which would lead to a total defeat of the Taiwanese forces.
Warnings, threats and intimidation have come one after the other in the last months around the South China Sea. They underline the growing pressure exerted on China by the United States. In this context the US has done everything possible to take in tow other Asian countries concerned by the expansionist aims of Beijing, trying for example to create a type of Asian NATO, the QUAD, bringing together the United States, Japan, Australia and India, and associating South Korea to it. On the other hand, and in the same sense, Biden wanted to revive NATO with the aim of drawing European countries into its policy of pressurising China. Paradoxically, the make-up of AUKUS indicates the limits of rallying other nations behind the United States. AUKUS first of all represents a slap in the face for France and negated Biden’s fine words about a “partnership” within NATO. Moreover, this agreement confirms the sensitivity of countries like India, which has its own imperialist ambitions, and above all of South Korea and Japan, squeezed between fear of China’s military strengthening and their industrial and commercial links with the country.
2. The significance of the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan
After the chaos and bloody barbarism of Iraq and Syria, events of September 2021 in Afghanistan fully confirm the main tendencies of the period: the decline of US leadership, the growth of chaos and each for themselves.
2.1. The US debacle in Afghanistan
The total collapse of the regime and the Afghan army, the clear advance of the Taliban despite 20 years of American military intervention and hundreds of billions of dollars devoured by “nation building”, as well as the panicked evacuation of US nationals and collaborators, strikingly confirms that the United States is no longer up to fulfilling the role of World Cop. More specifically, the dramatic and chaotic retreat of American troops from Afghanistan has led to domestic and foreign stresses on the Biden administration.
a) on the external level, the debacle has undermined the reliability of the United States in the eyes of its “allies”
When even the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, has had to recognise that the United States could no longer guarantee the defence of its European allies against their enemies, the whole charm offensive of Biden towards NATO and the allies collapsed. The total absence of working in concert within NATO and the uncompromising “Lone Ranger” attitude of the United States provoked indignant reactions in London, Paris and Berlin. As for the collaborators of the Americans in Afghanistan (like the Kurds in Syria betrayed by Trump), they rightly fear for their lives: here is the strongest world power incapable of guaranteeing the lives of its collaborators and the support of its allies. It doesn’t give much confidence (as Xi Jinping sarcastically observed!).
b) on the internal level it has eroded the credibility of the Biden administration
The resolution on the international situation of the 24th congress underlined that “The election of Biden, supported by a huge mobilisation of the media, parts of the political apparatus and even the military and the security services, express this real counter-tendency to the danger of social and political disintegration most clearly embodied by Trumpism. In the short term, such ‘successes’ can function as a brake on mounting social chaos” (point 8). However, the Afghan debacle demonstrates not only the lack of United States’ reliability towards its allies but it also accentuates tensions within the American bourgeoisie and opens up an avenue to all the adverse forces (Republican and populist) who condemn this hasty and humiliating retreat that “dishonours the United States on an international level”. And this at a time when the policy of industrial recovery and public works advocated by the Biden administration, and aimed at containing the ravages caused by populism, comes up against the ferocious opposition from Republicans in the Capitol and from Trump. On top of which, faced with a stagnating anti-Covid vaccination policy, it has been obliged to take measures of constraint against the population.
2.2 An unpredictable situation for the other imperialisms
The absence of centralisation in the Taliban power, the myriad currents and groups with the most diverse aspirations which make up the movement, and the agreements made with local warlords in order to quickly define the parameters of the country mean that chaos and unpredictability characterise the situation, as the recent attacks aimed at the Hazara minority demonstrate. This can only intensify the interventions of different imperialisms, but it also increases the unpredictability of the situation and thus the ambient chaos.
- Iran is linked to the Hazara minority along its frontiers and firmly intends to maintain its influence in this region. Pakistan is concerned that the victory of the Taliban (that it finances through its ISI secret services) leads to a Pashtun independence movement within its own frontiers. India, which largely financed the collapsed regime, is now confronted with an intensification of Muslim guerrilla activity in Indian Kashmir. Russia has strengthened its troop deployment in the ex-Soviet republics of Asia in order to counter any attempts to support any local jihadist movements.
- And does China in particular draw any advantage from the American retreat? The opposite is true. Chaos in Afghanistan even renders coherent and long-term policies in the country hazardous. Moreover, the presence of the Taliban on the borders with China constitute a potentially serious danger for Islamic infiltration (via the Uyghurs); above all the Pakistani “brothers” of the Taliban, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), cousins of the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK), are engaged in attacks against the workplaces and dockyards of the “New Silk Road”, which have already led to the deaths of dozens of Chinese “aid workers”.
China is trying to counter the danger coming from Afghanistan by implanting itself in the old Soviet republics of Central Asia (Turkistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). But these republics are traditionally part of the Russian zone of influence. This increases the danger of a confrontation with its “strategic ally”, with whom it has fundamentally opposing long-term interests over the “New Silk Road” (cf. Point 4.2. which deals with the Russian-Chinese alliance).
3. China’s position on the imperialist chessboard
In the last decades China has undergone a dazzling rise on the economic and imperialist levels which has made it the most important challenger to the United States. However, as events of September 2021 in Afghanistan have already illustrated, it hasn’t been able to profit either from the decline of the US or from the crisis of Covid-19 and its consequences in order to strengthen its position on the level of imperialist relations; again quite the contrary. We’ll examine the difficulties which faced Chinese bourgeoisie in handling the pandemic, and in the management of the economy, imperialist relations and tensions within the ruling class.
3.1. Difficulties in the management of the Covid crisis
China put herd immunity (“zero tolerance”) before opening up the country, but the strict lock-downs applied to towns and entire regions each time infections were detected heavily disrupted economic and commercial activities: thus, the closure of the port of Yantian, the third largest container port in the world, led last May to the blockage of thousands of containers and hundreds of ships, totally disorganising world maritime traffic.
Moreover, this quest for herd immunity pushed some Chinese towns and provinces to put financial sanctions on latecomers and those reluctant to get vaccinated. Faced with numerous criticisms on Chinese social networks, the central government blocked these types of measures, which were tending “to put national cohesion into danger”.
Finally, the most serious problems came without doubt over the converging information on the limited efficacy of the Chinese vaccine communicated by the various countries using them “All in all, the Chilean vaccination campaign – quite effective with 62% of the population currently vaccinated - does not seem to have any noticeable impact on the proportion of deaths” (H. Testard, "Covid-19: la vaccination décolle en Asie mais les doutes augmentent sur les vaccins chinois", Asialyst, 21.07.21). Even the Chinese authorities are looking to make agreements to import Pfizer or Moderna versions in order to alleviate the inefficiencies of their own vaccine.
Beyond the undeniable responsibility of China in the outbreak of the pandemic, the inefficient management of the Covid crisis by Beijing puts pressure on Chinese state capitalism.
3.2. The accumulation of problems for the Chinese economy
The strong growth of China for 40 years now – even if the figures have fallen back the last decade – seems to be coming to an end. Experts expect growth of Chinese GDP lower than 6% in 2021 against 7% on average over the last decade and more than 10% from the preceding decade. Various other factors are accentuating the present difficulties of the Chinese economy:
a) The danger of the bursting of the Chinese property bubble: Evergrande, China’s second biggest real estate company today finds itself burdened with some 300 billion euros of debt, around 2% of GDP, that it can’t pay back. Others similar companies are contaminated such as Fantasia Holdings or Sinic Holdings and are on the edge of default faced with their creditors. Generally, the housing sector which represents 25% of the Chinese economy has generated a colossal public and private debt of billions and billions of dollars. Evergrande’s bankruptcy is really only the first sequence in the global collapse of this sector. Today empty buildings are so numerous that they could house 90 million people! It’s true that the immediate collapse of the sector will be avoided as the Chinese authorities have no other choice than to limit the damage which otherwise risks having a very severe impact on the financial sector: “(...) ‘there will not be a snowball effect like in 2008 [in the US], because the Chinese government can stop the machine’, says Andy Xie, an independent economist and former Morgan Stanley employee in China, quoted by Le Monde. ‘I think that with Anbang [insurance group, editor's note] and HNA [Hainan Airlines], we have good examples of what can happen: there will be a committee bringing together around a table the company, the creditors and the authorities, which will decide which assets to sell, which to restructure and, in the end, how much money is left and who can lose funds’.” (P.-A. Donnet, “Chute d’Evergrande en Chine: la fin de l’argent facile”, Asialyst, 25.09.21).
However, if the Chinese housing market bases its economic model on astronomical debt, numerous other sectors are in the red: at the end of 2020, the global debt of Chinese businesses represents 160% of the GDP of the country, against about 80% for American companies; and the “toxic” investments of local governments, according to the analyses of Goldman Sachs, represents 53,000 billion yuan, a sum which amounts to 52% of Chinese GDP. Thus the bursting of the housing bubble risks not only contaminating other sectors of the economy but also endangering social stability (close to 3 million direct and indirect jobs are linked to Evergrande), a great fear of the Chinese Communist Party.
b) Energy cuts: they are the consequence of a lack of provision of coal caused, among other things, by the record floods in the Shaanxi Province which alone produces 30% of the country’s combustibles, and also the hardening of anti-pollution rules decided by Xi. The shortage is already affecting industrial activity in several regions: the steel sector and the aluminium and cement sectors are already suffering from limitations on available electricity. Aluminium production capacity has already been reduced by 7%, cement production by 29% (Morgan Stanley’s figures); paper and glass will be the next sectors hit by power shortages. From now these cuts will slow down economic growth in the whole of the country. But the situation is even more serious than appears at first sight: “The power shortage is now spilling over into the residential market in parts of the Northeast. Liaoning province has extended power cuts from the industrial sector to residential networks.” (P.-A. Donnet, «Chine: comment la grave pénurie d’électricité menace l’économie», Asialyst, 30.09.21).
c) Breaks in the production and supply chain. These are linked to the energy crisis but also to the lock-down due to Covid infections (see the preceding points). They have affected production in industries across many regions and increased the risk of breaking national and global supply chains that have already been hit hard, much more so as some manufacturers are faced with an acute shortage of semi-conductors.
3.3. The planned “New Silk Road” is running out of steam
The “New Silk Road” is becoming more and more difficult to achieve, due to financial problems linked to the Covid crisis and to the difficulties of the Chinese economy but also to the reticence of its partners:
- on one hand, the level of debt in the “partner” countries has risen because of the Covid crisis and they find themselves unable to pay the interest on Chinese loans. Some countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Kirghizstan, Pakistan, Montenegro and various African countries have asked China to restructure, delay or even annul their debt payments which are due this year.
- on the other hand, there is a growing distrust among numerous countries regarding the actions of China (European Union, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia) connected to the anti-Chinese pressure exercised by the United States (as in Latin America), and there are also the consequences of the chaos produced by decomposition, destabilising certain key countries “along the route”, as in the example of Ethiopia.
In short, we shouldn’t be surprised that in 2020 there was a collapse in the value of investments injected into the “New Silk Road” project (-64%), while China has loaned more than $461 billion since 2013.
3.4. Accentuation of tensions with the Chinese bourgeoisie
During the regime of Deng Xiao Ping’s Stalinist-type Chinese state capitalism, under the cover of a policy of “creating wealth in order to share wealth”, a number of “free” zones were established (Hong Kong, Macao, etc.) so as to develop a type of “free market” capitalism allowing international capital to come in while also favouring the private capitalist sector. This sector, with the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the “globalisation” of the economy in the 90’s, developed in an exponential manner, even if the public sector under the direct control of the state still represented 30% of the economy. How then did the rigid and repressive “One Party” Stalinist state manage this “opening” to private capital? From the 1990’s, the Party was transformed by massively integrating entrepreneurs and private business bosses: “In the early 2000s, the then president Jiang Zemin lifted the ban on recruiting private sector entrepreneurs, who had previously been seen as class enemies (...). The businessmen and women thus selected become members of the political elite, which ensures that their companies are, at least partially, protected from predatory managers” (“Que reste-t-il du communisme en Chine?”, Le Monde Diplomatique 68, July, 2021) Today, professionals and graduate managers constitute 50% of Chinese Communist Party members.
The oppositions between the different factions will thus be expressed not only within state structures but even within the CCP itself. For several years (see the Report on Imperialist Tensions for the 20th ICC Congress, 2013), the growing tensions between different factions within the Chinese bourgeoisie, particularly between those linked to the private capitalist sectors depending on international investments and exchanges, and those linked to the state structures of financial control at the regional and national level are those that advocate opening up to world trade and those that advance a more nationalist policy. In particular, the “turn to the left” taken by the faction behind President Xi, which means less economic pragmatism and more nationalist ideology, has intensified tensions and political instability these last years: thus “the continuing tensions between Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping over economic recovery, as well as China's 'new position' on the international stage” (A. Payette, "Chine : à Beidaihe, ‘l'université d'été’ du Parti, les tensions internes à fleur de peau", Asialyst, 06.09.20). There is the “policy of war” undertaken by Chinese diplomacy regarding Taiwan and, at the same time, the spectacular declaration by Xi that China wants to reach carbon neutrality for its economy by 2060, and explicit criticisms of Xi are regularly appearing (latterly the “viral alert” essay published by a reputable professor of constitutional right at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, predicting the end of Xi). There are tensions between Xi and the general command of the People’s Liberation Army, the interventions of the state apparatus against “too flamboyant” entrepreneurs and criticisms of state control (Jack Ma and Ant Financial, Alibaba). Some bankruptcies (HNA, Evergrande) could also be linked to fighting between cliques within the Party, for example in the cynical framework of “protecting citizens from the excesses of the capitalist class”.
In short, far from taking advantage of the present situation, the Chinese bourgeoisie, as others, is confronted with the weight of the crisis, the chaos of decomposition and internal tensions that it is trying by all means to contain within the capitalist structures of a worm-eaten state.
4. The extension of chaos, instability and barbaric warfare
The analysis given in the preceding points certainly shows the tensions between the United States and China tends to occupy a predominant place in the situation of imperialism, but without stimulating a tendency to the formation of imperialist blocs. In fact, beyond certain limited alliances such as AUKUS, the principal power on the planet, the United States, has not only failed to mobilise other powers behind its policies (as against Iraq or Iran before or China today) but it is incapable of defending its own allies and taking on the role of “bloc leader”. This decline of US leadership leads to an accumulation of chaos which more and more impacts on the policies of the all the dominant imperialisms including China which itself cannot durably impose its leadership over other countries.
4.1. Chaos and war
The fact that the Taliban have “beaten” the Americans will embolden all the smaller sharks, who will not hesitate to advance their agendas in the absence of anyone able to impose the “rules”. We are going into a period of an acceleration of lawlessness and the greatest chaos in history. Each for themselves becomes the central factor in imperialist relations and the most barbaric warfare threatens entire zones of the planet.
a) Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa
In addition to the barbaric civil wars in Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the descent of Afghanistan into horror, the strong tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, stimulated by Turkey provoking Russia, civil war has broken out in Ethiopia (supported by Eritrea) against the “rebel province” of Tigray (supported by Sudan and Egypt); and finally there are growing tensions between Algeria and Morocco.
The “Somalisation” of States, zones of instability and “no-go” areas (see the Report of the 20th Congress of the ICC) have not stopped spreading; at present chaos reigns from Kabul to Addis-Ababa, Sanna to Yerevan, Damascus to Tripoli and Baghdad to Bamako.
b) Central and South America
Covid has hit the sub-continent hard (one eighth of the world population, one third of world deaths in 2020) and it has plunged into the worst recession for 120 years: GDP contracted by 7.7% in 2020 (LMD, October 2021). Chaos is growing in Haiti which is sinking into a desperate situation under the reign of bloody gangs and the situation is equally catastrophic in Central America; hundreds of millions of desperate people fleeing misery and chaos and threatening the frontier of the United States. The region suffers more and more convulsions linked to decomposition: social revolts in Columbia and Chile, populist confusion in Brazil. Mexico is trying to play its own cards (proposing a new OAS, etc) but is too dependent on the United States to affirm its own aspirations. The United States has not been able to remove Maduro in Venezuela where China, Russia and even Iran continue with their “humanitarian” support, as well as Cuba. Above all China has infiltrated itself into the economy of the region since 2008 and has become an important financier of numerous Latin American states, but American counter-pressure is presently strong on certain states (Panama, Ecuador and Chile) to keep their distance from “the predatory economic activity” of Beijing.
The tensions between NATO and Russia have intensified these last months: after the incident where the Ryanair flight was diverted and intercepted by Belarus in order to arrest a dissident taking refuge in Lithuania; there were June NATO manoeuvres in the Black Sea off the coast of Ukraine where an engagement took place between a British frigate and the Russian navy; and in September there were joint manoeuvres between the Russian and Belarusian armies on the frontiers of Poland and the Baltic States faced with NATO exercises on Ukrainian territory, a real provocation in the eyes of Putin.
4.2. Growing instability
The growing chaos also increases tensions within the bourgeoisie and strengthens the unpredictability of their imperialist positioning; this is the case with Brazil where the catastrophic health situation and the irresponsible management of the Bolsonaro government has led to a more and more intense political crisis, and there are similar situations in other countries of Latin America (political instability in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Argentina). In the Near and Middle East tensions between the clans and tribes who run Saudi Arabia could destabilise the country, while Israel is marked by an opposition from a large part of its political factions from the right to the left against Netanyahu and against the religious parties, but also by pogroms inside the country against “Israeli” Arabs. Finally, there is Turkey looking for a solution to its political and economic difficulties in a suicidal dash into imperialist adventures (Libya, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, etc).
In Europe the Afghan debacle and the US submarine deal as well as the post-Brexit situation accentuates the destabilisation of organisations which came from the period of blocs such as NATO or the EU. Within NATO some countries increasingly doubt the reliability of the United States. Thus, Germany has not given ground to American pressure regarding the Baltic Sea pipeline with Russia, and France didn’t react well to the insult from the United States in the submarine deal with Australia; meanwhile other European countries continue to see the United States as their main protector. The question of relations with Britain over the implementation of the Brexit agreement (Northern Ireland, fish quotas, etc.) divides the countries of the EU and tensions remain strong between France and Britain. Within the EU itself the flux of refugees continues to come up against states while those like Hungary and Poland are more and more openly calling into question the “supra-national powers” defined by the European Treaty and the hydra of populism threatens France at the time of the Spring elections in 2022.
Chaos and each for themselves also tends to hinder the continuity of action of the major imperialisms: the United States is obliged to maintain pressure through regular air bombardments on the Shi’ite militias that are harassing their remaining forces in Iraq; Russia has to play the fire-fighter in the armed confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, stirred up by Turkish imperialism; the extension of chaos in the Horn of Africa through the civil war in Ethiopia with Sudan and Egypt supporting the Tigray region and Eritrea the central Ethiopian government. These developments are undermining Chinese plans to make Ethiopia, vaunted as a pole of stability and the “world’s new workshop”, a pivotal point for its “Belt and Road” plan in north-east Africa – this was also the reason China set up a military base in Djibouti. The continuing impact, measures and uncertainties linked to the pandemic are equally a factor in the imperialist policies of various states: stagnation of vaccinations in the United States after opening up with a fanfare (over 800,000 thousand deaths up to December 24, New York Times), new, massive lock-downs of entire regions and a patent lack of Chinese vaccine efficiency, distrust of the population in Russia towards vaccines (just over 30% vaccination rate).
This instability also characterises alliances such as the one between China and Russia. If these countries have developed a “strategic co-operation” (reference the Sino-Russian communiqué of 28.6.21) against the United States and in relation to the Middle East, Iran or North Korea, and even organised common manoeuvres between their armies and navies, their political ambitions are radically different: above all Russian imperialism aims for the destabilisation of regions and can aim for little more than “frozen conflicts” (Syria, Libya, Ukraine, Georgia...) whereas China deploys a long-term economic and imperialist policy: the New Silk Road. Moreover, Russia is perfectly conscious that the route of the “Silk Road” by land and through the zone of the Arctic opposes its interests inasmuch as it directly threatens Russian zones of influence in Central Asia and in Siberia. It also understands that on the level of industrial strength, it does not have the weight of the second world economy - its GDP corresponds to that of Italy.
4.3. Development of the war economy
“The war economy (...) is not a political economy which can resolve the contradictions of capitalism or create the foundations of a new stage of capitalist development (...) The only function of the war economy is ... WAR! Its raison d’être is the effective and systematic destruction of the means of production and of the forces of production and the production of the means of destruction – the real logic of capitalist barbarism” (“From the crisis to the war economy”, International Review no. 11, 1977). The fact that the perspective is not towards the constitution of large stable alliances, imperialist “blocs” engaged in a global confrontation and thus a world war, takes nothing away from the present accentuation of the war economy. Submitting the economy to military necessities is a drain on the economy but this irrationality is not a choice: it is the product of the impasse of capitalism that social decomposition accelerates.
The arms race devours phenomenal sums, in the case of the United States, which still has an important advantage at this level, but also in China which has significantly increased its military expenses during the last two decades. “The increase of 2.6% of global military expenses over the year where Gross Domestic Product at the global level has shrunk by 4.4% (projection of the International Monetary Fund, October 2020), principally because of the economic aspect of Covid-19. Consequently, military expenditure in percentage of GDP – the so-called military burden – has reached a world average of 2.4% in 2020 against 2.2% in 2019. This is the strongest annual increase since the economic and financial crisis of 2009” (Sipri press communiqué, April 2021). The arms race concerns not only conventional and nuclear weapons, but the greater militarisation of space and the extension of zones that have been spared up to now, such as the Arctic region.
Given the terrifying expansion of this imperialist each for themselves, the arms race is not limited to the major imperialisms but affects all states, particularly on the Asian continent which has seen a significant rise in military expenses: thus the inversion of the respective rates between Asia and Europ between 2000 and 2018 is spectacular: in 2000, Europe and Asia respectively represented 27% and 18% of defence expenses world-wide. In 2018, these figures were overturned as Asia now represented 28% and Europe 20% (Sipri).
This militarisation is also expressed today by an awesome development of cyber-warfare by states (attacks by hackers often linked directly or indirectly to states such as the cyber-attack by Israel against Iranian nuclear sites) as well as Artificial Intelligence and military robotics (robots, drones) which are playing a more and more important role in intelligence or in military operations.
However, “the real key of the constitution of the war economy (..) (is) the physical and/or ideological submission of the proletariat to the state, (the) degree of control that the state has over the working class” (Id., International Review no.11, 1977). But this aspect is far from being achieved. That explains why the acceleration of the arms race goes along with a strong reluctance of the major imperialist powers (United States, China, Russia, Britain and France) for the massive engagement of soldiers in the field of conflicts (“boots on the ground”), for fear of the impact of large numbers of body bags coming back home on the population and particularly on the working class. Also revealing is the use of private military companies (Wagner troops for the Russians, Blackwater/Academi for the United States) or the engagement of local militias in order to undertake actions: for example, the use of Syrian Sunni militias by Turkey in Libya and Azerbaijan, Kurdish militias by the United States in Syria and Iraq, Hezbollah or the Iraqi Shi’ite militias by Iran in Syria, Sudanese militias by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, a regional force (Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso) “coached” by France in the Liptako...
5. Impact on the proletariat and its struggle
The perspective is thus a multiplication of barbaric and bloody conflicts:
“11. At the same time, ‘massacres from innumerable small wars’ are also proliferating as capitalism in its final phase plunges into an increasingly irrational imperialist free for all…
13. This does not mean that we are living in an era of greater safety than in the period of the Cold War, haunted as it was by the threat of a nuclear Armageddon. On the contrary, if the phase of decomposition is marked by a growing loss of control by the bourgeoisie, this also applies to the vast means of destruction – nuclear, conventional, biological and chemical – that has been accumulated by the ruling class, and is now more widely distributed across a far greater number of nation states than in the previous period.” (Resolution on the International Situation of the 24th Congress).
Inasmuch as we are aware that the bourgeoisie is capable of turning the worst effects of decomposition against the proletariat, we must be conscious that the context of murderous barbarity does not at all facilitate the workers’ struggle:
- The acceleration of decomposition will bring with it endless wars throughout the world, a multiplication of massacres and misery, millions of refugees aimlessly wandering around, an indescribable social chaos and destruction of the environment, and all this accentuating the feeling of fear and demoralisation in the ranks of the proletariat.
- The different armed conflicts will be used to unleash intense campaigns about the defence of democracy, human rights, the rights of women, as is the case with Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Syria and Iraq.
- Consequently, our intervention must denounce the progression of barbarism and the insidious nature of the situation, it must constantly warn the proletariat against underestimating the dangers posed by the chaotic multiplicity of conflicts, in a context where each for themselves is the dominant dynamic: “Left to its own devices, it (decomposition) will lead humanity to the same fate as world war. In the end, it is all the same whether we are wiped out in a rain of thermonuclear bombs, or by pollution, radioactivity from nuclear power stations, famine, epidemics, and the massacres of innumerable small wars (where nuclear weapons might also be used). The only difference between these two forms of annihilation lies in that one is quick, while the other would be slower, and would consequently provoke still more suffering.” (Theses on Decomposition, point 11).
ICC, November 2021