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Beyond Liberal Globalization: A Better or Worse World?

Samir Amin is director of the African office (in Dakar, Senegal) of the Third World Forum, an international nongovernmental association for research and debate, and chair of the World Forum for Alternatives. He is the author of numerous books and articles including Beyond U.S. Hegemony (Zed, 2006), The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World (Monthly Review Press, 2004), and Spectres of Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 1998).

The Future as Seen by the Dominant Powers

The CIA (together with its associated intelligence organizations) gathers an unparalleled mass of information of all kinds on all the world’s countries. However, its analysis of this material is banal in the extreme. This is undoubtedly because its leaders cannot see beyond their imperialist prejudices or their Anglo-Saxon worldview and lack critical interest and imagination.

The National Intelligence Council’s predictions for the world in 2020, as detailed in Mapping the Global Future (December 2004), do not contemplate the possibility that the principles of liberal globalization in force, described as the “Davos Project,” could be called into question. This is because, according to Washington and its allies, these principles are perfect and there is therefore no credible alternative to them. Those that do not share this view can only be irrational nonconformists or unprincipled demagogues. Globalized liberalism is pronounced the means of strong economic growth everywhere it is seriously implemented. Liberal globalization is by definition positive.

Of course, in reality this project, which constitutes “the end of history” according to its defenders, suffers from “unfortunate shortcomings” that lead to failures—albeit “temporary”—and produces “absurd reactions” (calling into question the “sound principles” of liberalism) that result in “chaos.” According to this view, it is the people, politicians, and ideologues alone who are responsible for the failures and the chaos, since the spread of globalized liberalism (that is to say the accumulation of capital) can only be a good thing for all (or almost all).

This type of reasoning and these worldviews are not only held by the teams in power in Washington. They reflect the prevailing discourse of the large majority of powers and the narrow-mindedness of the prejudices on which they are based. An analysis of reality intended to be as true as possible must begin by challenging these prejudices and subjecting the views that they inspire to rigorous analysis.

The differences between the world in 2020 and the world today as seen by the U.S. establishment are of relative importance only. Moreover, these differences only affect the place of Asia (China and India in particular) in the world economy resulting from the pursuit of high growth in the case of these two large countries. This growth it is assumed will take place in the context of liberal globalization and will be entirely compatible with the preservation of United States leadership. At no time is the question raised as to whether this model is sustainable indefinitely without the internal contradictions in the countries concerned branching out in new and unforeseen directions.

Elsewhere, Almost ‘Nothing to Report’

According to the report, Europe will continue to flounder in its powerlessness (radical liberal reforms will not be carried out and an immigrant management model based on U.S. practice will not be adopted), resulting in an economy blighted by persistent apathy. Yet at no time is it envisaged that the latter might become unsustainable to the point at which liberalism on a national or European scale, or in relations with the rest of the world, is called into question. Neither does it contemplate that Europe might leave Atlanticism or the U.S. “protection” from the terrorism that Washington alone is deemed capable of stamping out by waging preventive wars.

Russia, still resistant to democracy, will, it is believed, be incapable of becoming a dynamic, modern industrial power once again and will become an exclusively oil-based power (like Saudi Arabia). Handicapped by its declining population, bogged down by strained relations with the new Central Asian and Caucasian states, and definitively separated from the Ukraine, it will prefer to follow in Washington’s wake rather than seek a rapprochement with Europe which, at present, is not interested in it.

Latin America will remain essentially as we know it today, but with growth in liberalism in the Southern Cone and Mexico, progress towards the integration envisaged by the Free Trade Area of the Americas project, and acknowledgment within this context of Washington’s “leadership.” The “vestige of the past” (Cuba) will disappear, populist uprisings (of the Chávez type) will come to nothing, and the increase of indigenism will be absorbable.

Being incapable of following the examples of Asia and Latin America, black Africa will still not have entered the first era of industrialization. Undermined by the spread of the AIDS pandemic and the persistent tradition of “poor governance,” its only area of growth will be in raw materials, especially petroleum and possibly some agricultural products.

Finally, Arab and Muslim countries from Morocco to Indonesia will remain paralyzed by the massive rallying of their peoples to the fantasy of the reconstruction of a mythical Caliphate. The constant failure of this project will result in political instability (making democratic progress impossible) and mediocre economic performance, although the accompanying permanent drift towards terrorism will not pose a real threat to the rest of the world. There is always a price to pay for terrorism: the permanent occupation of Iraq (envisaged by Washington even before its attack) and the indefinite postponement of democracy in this country; and the failure to resolve the Palestinian problem! The restriction of democratic rights in “civilized” Western countries is also the price people pay.

The “probable” developments described above lead to the conclusion that the leadership of the United States will not be threatened—not even by a triumphant Asia, let alone a stagnating Europe bound, by its allegiance, in practice, to Atlanticism and U.S. military policies.

The decline of the UN will continue, the political governance of the world system will “fall upon” the United States with the possible (but not essential) support of NATO. Preventive war, duty of intervention (described as humanitarian), and the propagation (manipulation in fact) of human rights will form the basis of discourse legitimizing the new imperialism in 2020 as it does today.

This view of the future of the world poses a problem. This future is presented in the context of so-called scenarios, which in fact summarize two worlds, that of Davos (meaning the consolidation of global liberalization ensuring the more or less exclusive leadership of the United States) or one of “chaos.” This is a misleading comparison as in actual fact it is the pursuit of the Davos project that causes chaos—the “populist” reactions to social failure, terrorism, etc. What is offered then, in fact, is a single scenario: the pursuit of the liberal project guaranteed by U.S. leadership and the management of chaos through the militarization of globalization.

My analysis of really existing capitalism leads me to a completely different conclusion. This system—in its globalized liberal form—is not viable, inasmuch as the chaos that it engenders, far from being controllable by the means contemplated by the system’s ruling classes, can only become rapidly worse in dramatic proportions. The military and political failure in Iraq, the increasing rejection of the “European project” by the peoples concerned, the outbreaks of violence (as occurred in November 2005 in the suburbs of France), and many other phenomena that have become daily occurrences are evidence of this. Having said that, I am not led to conclude that an acceptable solution will necessarily be found. Tomorrow’s world, probably even as soon as 2020, will be different from today’s but not necessarily any better. It could be much worse. Scenarios which take the best and the worst into account and identify their causes are a worthwhile and useful tool for deliberation.

Is the European Project Viable?

Euphoric discourse concerning the “European project” is the daily bread of the large majority of both left- and right-wing politicians on the continent. Only the extremists of “populism” (which, in this view, encompasses the far right and the far left) would reject the project presented as if there were no alternative for the future of the peoples concerned. Yet indication of growing disillusion among these peoples is not lacking.

In fact, the European project is extremely perplexing: it has applied itself, since the Treaty of Maëstricht (1992) in particular, to restricting national economic policies without delivering any replacement government at the European level in counterpoint! In other words, the European Union operates like the most perfectly globalized region in the world in the most brutal sense of the term, meaning the annihilation of state autonomy. This is certainly not the case in the United States, nor even other regions of the world where the state, even if fragile and vulnerable, in principle retains control over its decisions, limited only by the rules of the World Trade Organization (which also aim gradually to annihilate states’ rights and prerogatives). Europe has, therefore, gone further than the rest of the world in terms of this big step backwards.

The mutilation that European states have inflicted upon themselves affects all areas of economic life: Europe no longer has any monetary policy, foreign exchange policy, budgetary policy, employment policy, or industrial policy.

The European Central Bank (ECB) is prohibited from implementing any monetary policy, which it has replaced with the sole objective of guaranteeing price stability, it claims, with strict rules preventing member states from financing their deficits by recourse to their central banks. Operating under these conditions, central banks no longer have a public representative body (neither the states nor the EU) to which they must justify their policies. This, in principle, locked in deflationary option is an additional permanent obstacle to the dynamism of the economy.

The ECB cannot implement an active foreign exchange policy, the objectives of which (strong euro or weak euro) are determined by a public representative body, as this no longer exists. The government of the United States, in contrast, has maintained all its prerogatives in the field of monetary management so it is Washington that decides if the dollar will be weak or strong whereas the euro can only record the decision and adjust accordingly. It should be added that the dollar standard is in fact the oil/dollar standard: the price of oil is quoted in dollars and the United States directs its efforts, through military intervention if necessary (as in the case of Iraq), toward preventing oil-producing countries from selling their oil for payment in euros. European states themselves have, so far, refused to take part in this game and risk hurting and antagonizing their friend on the other side of the Atlantic. Fettered in this way, the euro cannot become an international currency like the dollar.

The stability pact sounded the death knell for any possibility of implementing budgetary policies. This option was justified by recourse to a dubious theory on the equivalence of covering a deficit in public finances through taxation or borrowing. In actual fact, this justification is redundant since the pact capped the maximum allowable deficit at 3 percent and the debt ceiling at 60 percent of the GDP! Neither the United States nor any other country (except the semi-colonies subject to IMF administration!) have subjected themselves to such a handicap, rightly described by Italian prime minister Romano Prodi as “stupid.”

European Community policy has not even partially compensated for: (1) the elimination of all forms of national industrial policy (under the pretext that transparent competition leads to a more efficient allocation of investment), (2) the abolition of all forms of employment policy (left to market forces alone on the assumption that flexibility will resolve the problems!), and (3) the dismantling of public services and privatization. Neither industrial Europe nor social Europe is on the agenda. Europe is clearly drawing closer to the perpetual U.S. model, having long been engaged in the break with all of the traditions that underpinned its success during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The United States, however, has a military-industrial strategy which has considerable state backing (in spite of liberal discourse) that is unparalleled in Europe. Note that the two major achievements of European technology (the Airbus and the Ariane rocket) were the result of public service intervention. Had it been left to private initiative, these two events would never have come about!

In one area, however—that of agriculture—Europe has effectively implemented a dynamic community policy that is free from doctrinaire liberalism. This policy has produced remarkable results; it has modernized family farming, increased cultivated acreage, intensified the use of equipment and favored specialization, guaranteed prices ensuring equivalence between peasant and urban workers’ income, and, finally, removed major export surpluses. What has this cost? Half of the European Community’s budget it is true, but this is insignificant (less than 1 percent of the GDP of the countries concerned). Today, as we know, the Common Agricultural Policy is under review.

Enjoying second place in the European Union’s expenditure ranking (with one-third of the budget), regional policy is undermined by serious ambiguities and belied by questionable political ambitions. Its objective is not so much the reduction of inequality between member states and the regions that constitute them as it is support for their capacity to meet competition, which is assumed in itself to bring progress for all (doctrinaire liberalism is never called into question in spite of the flagrantly obvious examples to the contrary both past and present). Support for less developed states is also expected to be reduced (relatively at least) following the incorporation of central and eastern European countries into the EU. Focusing mainly on the subsidization of regional infrastructure and education costs, the regionalization policies implemented have accentuated inequalities rather than diminished them and have favored “regions with a future” in areas which are receptive to globalized competition (such as Bavaria, Lombardy, and Catalonia). The political objective pursued here is the reduction of the influence of national units in favor of regional loyalty. Globalized liberalism always prefers small states to large ones because it is easier to dismantle the functions of the state in the case of the former. In the European Union, so-called Bavarian, Catalonian, or Lombardian assertion is preferred over that of the nations (which are always suspected of chauvinism).

What is certainly true is that the major concepts concerning the enlargement of the EU are no different from those that underpin U.S. plans for the integration of Latin America into a vast Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The politics of cooperation between the European Union and sub-Saharan Africa have never been anything other than neocolonial and have served only to keep the African continent mired in a pre-industrial state. The liberal alignment of the European Union underpinning the Cotonou agreement (2000) and those described as “signatories to the Regional Economic Partnership Agreement” (REPA) makes this adverse development worse. Africa is, in this respect, subject to deliberate exclusion (Samir Amin et al., Afrique: renaissance ou exclusion programmée, 2005). In fact, there can be no doubt that the open globalization associated with keeping the African continent in a pre-industrial state is a strategy implemented to make it easy for dominant transnational capital to plunder the continent’s natural resources. However, it should be pointed out that this plundering will be of greater benefit to U.S. multinationals than European ones. From the perspective of the persistent decline of Africa, cooperation policies (today described as “partnerships”!) between the European Union and Asian, Caribbean, and Pacific states will gradually diminish to the benefit of other initiatives in the direction of Latin America, Asia, and the Mediterranean region. But to date, there has been nothing to suggest that these initiatives might break new ground and distance themselves from the expansionist intentions of transnational capital. The so-called Euro-Mediterranean projects, for their part, are deprived of any potential influence by the rallying of Europeans to the initiatives of Washington and Tel Aviv, in spite of a few rhetorical contortions here and there (S. Amin & A. El Kenz, Europe and the Arab world, Zed, 2005).

As it stands, the European project takes support for practices that are systematically detrimental to the successful economic development of the European continent to absurd limits, so we are bound to ask why these choices (which Prodi described rightly as stupid) have been made.

The only reasonable answer to this question is that they were made by large dominant capital as this was the means—the only possible means—available to crush the social force that European workers (working classes first and foremost) fought for two centuries to obtain. The collapse of the Soviet system provided this opportunity. The choices were therefore entirely rational but clearly based on a short-term political approach which has always spontaneously benefited from capital preference. What is absurd is the behavior of the European socialist and social-democrat parties which believed they stood to benefit from the collapse of the communist parties whereas the liberal strategy intended to liquidate all of them.

So, I do not believe the European project is viable either in its extreme liberalism or in its alignment with Washington’s geostrategy. As for how it will be called into question and what developments will constrain it, that is as yet unknown.

This brings me to the point of my analysis which has to do with political cultures. Those of a large part of the European continent can be seen as a series of major developments that led to the right/left split: the philosophy of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and in particular the Montagnarde Convention, the formation of the socialist workers’ movement in the nineteenth century, Marxism and the Paris Commune, and the Russian Revolution and the formation of the communist parties. The right formed in counterpoint during the Restoration (the Holy Alliance), through the formulation of anti-Marxist ideologies (veering towards fascism), pro-colonial (and racist) ideological corruption, and anti-Sovietism. The stages in which the political culture developed in the United States are quite different: the immigration to New England of anti-Enlightenment sects, the genocide of the Indians and slavery within society (the impact of which is much more devastating than that of the slavery practiced in distant colonies), and the collapse of the conscience of the political class, which successive waves of immigrants replaced with communitarianism. The political culture produced by this history is not that of a strong (potentially socialist) left/right contrast but a pro-capitalist “consensus” which puts the electoral bipolarity (Democrats/Republicans) clearly into perspective.

The question being asked in Europe today is whether the legacy of its political culture will crumble away (and the left as the deliverer of a post-capitalist project disappear) to the benefit of the Americanization currently in progress (social-liberal parties joining the chorus of defenders of eternal capitalism), or whether a new left will be capable of uniting behind programs that are up to the challenges. Either, in my opinion, is possible.

The ideological offensive of the new right, which includes the majority of the electoral left, has developed a harmful anti-French discourse because, justly, this right sees in France, which played a major role in the formation of political cultures in Europe, the weak link in a European system committed to Americanization. “Colbertism” (meaning a system which in its time—along with absolute monarchy—laid the foundations for the capitalist modernity that replaced feudalism), “Jacobinism” (which understood that economic liberalism was the enemy of democracy and that the revolution had to be popular and not strictly bourgeois as had been the case in England), “secularism” (whose “radicalism” hinders the maturing of “community” identities desired by the pro-American right model), and even “Gaullo-communism” (to which Daniel Cohn-Bendit no doubt prefers anti-Soviet Pétainism!) are the themes repeated ad nauseam by this media propaganda. It is noteworthy that all these topics predominate in European discourse (meaning pro-European Union, as it is). Besides the implementation of the European project, it would be worth examining the discourse with which it surrounds itself. Any reference to the legacy of European political culture is described as “out of date”: the defense of class-based interests (unrelentingly treated as “corporatism”!) and respect for the nation (a regionalism that is powerless against capital, communitarianism, or even ethnocracies such as in the Baltics, Croatia, etc. being preferred). In contradistinction, the following are considered “modern”: praising competition between workers, regions and countries (regardless of the social price), and anti-secular concepts of religion (Polish pope worship).

The rebuilding of a European left clearly requires a radical, critical assessment of all this discourse. It also means identifying the principles on the basis of which an alternative can be built and, in particular, envisaging consequences thereof in terms of short- and long-term programs.

The above considerations take a dim view not only of the European project such as it is, but also of the response to it even from within committed progressive social movements. The project as it stands should surely be described not as the European project but as the European part of the Atlanticist project under U.S. hegemony. Major critical reactions to the project seem to me to be more focused on the search for a less asymmetric balance within the imperialist triad (by means of an adjustment in this context in relations between Europe and the United States) than on that of a global equilibrium that is less disadvantageous for the rest of the world.

In these conditions the question remains open: can the European project change direction or, in order for this to come about, must it go through the phase of open recognition of its failings?

Can the South Push Back Imperialism?

The collective imperialism of the triad (the United States, Europe, and Japan) is on the offensive and is actively directing its efforts toward reshaping the world to suit its own purposes. It has already managed to reduce the powers in almost all countries of the South to the status of compradore. In this context, because it is spearheading this offensive, the United States is in a position to implement its specific hegemonic project. This project depends on the implementation of “military control of the planet” (the very terms in which Washington unabashedly states its ambitions).

In order to accomplish its project, Washington has chosen the Middle East as the first region in which to strike for various reasons that I have presented elsewhere (L’hégémonisme des Etats Unis et l’effacement du projet européen, 2000, also “Confronting the Empire,” Monthly Review, July–August 2003). Nonetheless, the aims of the project stretch far beyond the Middle East: the entire South, meaning all of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The present is characterized, in general, by the break up of the South and the growing contrast between a group of so-called emerging countries (such as China, India, and Brazil but also smaller countries such as Korea) on one hand, and a stagnating, even regressing, “fourth world,” on the other. Can we conclude from this that the emerging countries are developing in the sense of catching up? My analysis, which is concerned with the characteristics of a new centers/peripheries system, leads me to respond negatively to this question. In this analysis, the decisive new advantages that define the dominating postures of the centers are no longer made up of the monopoly of industry as in the past when the centers-peripheries contradiction was almost synonymous with industrialized/non-industrialized countries, they are defined by the control of technologies, flow of funds, access to natural resources, information, and weapons of mass destruction. By these means, the imperialist centers effectively control the industries that have relocated to emerging peripheries—the real peripheries of the future.

From this perspective, the U.S. establishment considers China to be its major strategic adversary. It is, however, divided on this central question. Some think that China could continue its accelerated economic development by participating in liberal globalization, such as it is, and that because of this it will agree to play the game and accommodate U.S. leadership. However, others in Washington’s ruling class fear that China is playing its own game, trying to acquire advanced technologies and simultaneously reinforce its military might. A preventive war against this strategic adversary would then be envisaged before it becomes too late.

The emerging countries in question are very much looking forward to the future that current developments will bring. In the case of China, the success of the option of what could be characterized as a national capitalist perspective—that of a powerful capitalism having become an active player in the world system—comes up against obstacles that will become increasingly serious.

On one hand, this option cannot include the very large popular peasant and urban masses in economic growth. The latter will have to demonstrate their resistance with increasing force. I have drawn attention here to the particular resistance of the peasants, the beneficiaries of a radical revolution in their favor, who are threatened by the plan to privatize agricultural land (an enclosure project). The development of these struggles could deflect the Chinese project in the direction of real market socialism, i.e., a combination giving all its force to social priority (social justice) in the development model, supporting the priority expansion of the internal demand of the popular classes. This would lead far from the Chinese model and simply become part of liberal globalization. I refer here to debates on the subject which in China are heated (S. Amin, “Post-Maoist China: A Comparison with Communist Russia,” Review 22, no. 3 [1999]; “China: Market Socialism and U.S. Hegemony,” Review 28, no. 3 [2005]).

On the other hand, it would be naïve to think that the dominant imperialist powers will stand by and watch a country the size of China become an equal partner. When China thought it was in a position to purchase a multinational oil company in order to integrate further into liberal globalization and ensure provision for itself in this context, the United States, in violation of all its principles, which only doctrinaires of liberalism believe to be those that govern the reality of economic relations, overturned the attempt through a brutal political intervention. Clashes between China and the imperialist powers in all areas concerning access to the planet’s natural resources and control of modern technologies and industrial property rights are bound to become violent. Undoubtedly, this is destined to be even more severe than the conflicts which will also emerge as China gradually makes its mark on international markets of commonplace products.

The illusions held by the inhabitants of other emerging countries are even more alarming. In Brazil, for example, but also often elsewhere in Latin America, major segments of the left imagine it will be possible to construct hegemonic blocs managed according to good social-democratic tradition (that of the welfare state of the European post-war period, not the one we know today that is aligned with liberalism). They forget the entirely exceptional conditions that enabled the social-democratic welfare state to come about. The Western societies in question were more advanced than others, which made possible both the commitment of capital to domestic employment and the pursuit of their imperialist domination of the rest of the world. Social democracy was social-imperialist and even social-colonialist to the very end of the liberation movement struggles. The threat posed by the communist alternative was a decisive factor in this shift of power toward the historic capital-labor compromise that characterizes this exceptional moment in history.

The fate that the imperialist project reserves for the peoples of the non-emerging peripheries is even more dramatic. The marginalized regions of the world are in fact subject to the systematic implementation of policies by dominant forces that I consider to be strategies of programed exclusion of the peoples concerned, which facilitate the more rapid integration of their natural resources which are intensively plundered. The implementation of this project relies on aggression and military occupation (as in the case of Iraq) and supervision because of debt (in the case of African countries). In this context, Europe and Japan have virtually aligned themselves with Washington. The Euro-Mediterranean conference held in Barcelona in November 2005 is evidence of this. Europe tried to impose the agenda preferred by Bush giving priority to the “fight against terrorism.” The Arab governments, which are today extremely docile as regards the demands of the masters of the system, were forced to point out that the rights of the Palestinian and Iraqi peoples could not be disregarded to this extent. So Europe puts its interests in the Arab region in line with those of the United States, which are contained in what is known as the Greater Middle East Initiative. The same is true of sub-Saharan Africa, as illustrated by the Cotonou Agreements (2000) and the so-called partnership projects between the European Union and African regional communities. The alignment of all behind the same insipid discourse on the reduction of poverty and good governance, the arrogant adoption of stances by the new general director of the WTO (the “socialist” Pascal Lamy!), which would make those of the ambassadors of the Bush administration pale into insignificance by comparison, are evidence of the view shared by the partners of the imperialist triad.

Faced with this challenge of unequaled brutality, the response of the South is either extremely timid or inappropriate. The governments, like those of the protectorates before them, have only a limited range of movement and are careful not to question the economic liberalism their countries are paying for. Having been abandoned, large sectors of the popular classes are caught up in para-religious or para-ethnic rhetoric that aggravate the divisions among the peoples of the South.

Rebuilding the united front of the South against the collective imperialism of the triad and the militarist offensive of the United States is the challenge currently facing the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

During the Bandung era (1955–75), the peoples of Asia and Africa successfully managed to push back the imperialism of the time thanks to the united front that they formed. But the conditions that made these successes possible no longer govern the current situation. At the time, because the origins of those in power lay in national liberation movements and sometimes even genuine popular revolutions, they enjoyed a certain degree of legitimacy and the confidence of their people. In addition, the states that they governed could count, up to a certain point, on the support of the Soviet Union, obliging the imperialist aggressors to practice a certain degree of restraint. We know that after this, following the demise of the Soviet Union, the imperialist powers returned to their tradition of brutal aggression.

The real alternative—which I will call a people’s Bandung (and a Tricontinental) therefore comes up against serious obstacles. The tasks that the left have to accomplish in the countries of the South are no easier than the challenges faced by the European left.

On the Cultural Front: Decline

The possible decline of European culture and the Americanization of the world manifest themselves as the generalization of the principle of the “broad consensus” based on the robust assertion of “community identity.” We must not underestimate the serious danger for human civilization of the possible success of development in this direction, which I would described as an adverse trend. This decline, which moreover has already begun, may represent a right-wing solution to the crisis of senile capitalism and allow it to be overtaken not by progress in the direction of socialism but by the construction of a new tributary type of system, the main characteristics of which I will describe later. In other words, not only is another world possible, another world is certain, and it may be better or worse than the one in which we are currently living.

My view of this subject is based on a rejection of the linear version of fatal human progress from stage to stage as history unfolds, whether this version is based on reason (of European origin) associated with the economism of bourgeois modernity or on the vulgar Marxist interpretation of the succession of modes of production. At the critical turning points of history, in other words, when the deployment of a system reaches its end point due to the accumulated contradictions it has produced (i.e., when it enters its age of senility), there is more than one possible future. At these turning points, the options for subsequent development are numerous and the directions diverse.

In the analysis that I propose, the ideological and the political spheres have real autonomy in their relationships with the economic. A particular combination of these different forces, among several possibilities, then makes it possible to describe the system that arises in response to the current model in place, which has entered senility.

As I have already said, the capitalist system has definitely entered the advanced stages of senility, inasmuch as the seriousness of the contradictions resulting from the implementation of the system is such that their management entails the permanent use of the greatest political and military violence that the system’s masters can muster, including the permanent war of the North against the South.

It does not necessarily follow, however, that the crisis of this senile, global capitalist system will lead to its being overcome by an equally global socialism. This is a possibility. In the analysis that I propose, it would require: (1) From the point of view of political and social developments, the association of social progress, the consolidation of democracy, and the reinforcement of the autonomy of nations within the context of a negotiated multipolar globalization. (2) From the ideological and cultural point of view, the renewal of the values of universalism.

In this second dimension, the dominant trend is currently going in precisely the opposite direction. The manifestations of this great step backwards are visible in what is proposed by postmodernism, at least as far as its predominant trends are concerned, by questioning “objective truth” and through recognition of the “multiplicity of discourses.” Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont propose a caustic assessment of this failure of reason (Alan Sokal, Pseudosciences et postmodernisme, 2005).

Yet in this version, postmodernism, benefiting from a tailwind, does not itself offer this needed caustic, critical analysis. Postmodernism claims to call into question the privileged status of science in the matter of knowledge. It claims that objective truth simply does not exist and that truth is what people hold to be true. In other words, it places scientific discourse (described as narration) on a par with other types of narration (such as magic, para-sciences, religions). It even claims that the de facto multiplicity of narrations effectively underway annihilates all claims to universality. It puts all these discourses on the same par and, strangely (but not incomprehensibly), abstains from subjecting those who describe themselves as counterhegemonic to the same critical rigor it reserves for “dominant discourse.”

Most modernist discourse accompanies and legitimizes current major developments, i.e., the emergence of culturalisms (always in the plural). I understand by that, the assertion according to which cultures constitute transhistoric realities based on diverse, incommensurate, and permanent values. Nothing in peoples’ real history confirms this a priori aberration. Culturalism, which must not be confused with the banal and evident fact of cultural diversity, legitimizes the discourse of the pursuit of the absolute by which all para-religious movements are nourished (political Islam, Hindutva, the fundamentalist Christianity of the United States, and innumerable sects of all kinds) or para-ethnic movements. It is nothing less than the super-reactionary discourse which has no part in aspirations to liberate human beings, dominated classes, or peoples in particular; on the contrary, it shuts them in an impasse and makes them accept the real domination they are victims of, namely, that of senile capitalism.

The nature of questions concerning cultural diversity and counterhegemonic discourse is such that they often lead to a confusion that is necessary to avoid. So let us be clear on the subject. Yes, the really existing modernity produced by imperialist capitalism is culturally biased, Eurocentric, masculine, patriarchal, and Promethean in the sense that it treats nature as an object. Yes, the counterhegemonic discourses that opposes it (feminism, environmentalism, cultural anti-imperialism) constitute the unavoidable positive elements of any humanist alternative. This alternative, far from being the absolute negation of modernity, represents its rational and radical development abolishing Eurocentrism, male chauvinism, and contempt for nations.

Faced with this challenge, calling for the renunciation of universalist aspiration is fundamentally reactionary. It is to agree that counterhegemonic discourse is only permissible if it remains within the ghettoes it has been assigned. U.S.-style democracy encourages this powerless “diversity.” “Women’s studies” and “black studies” will be proclaimed, and at the same time the conventional discourse of dominant economics will continue on its way without experiencing the slightest disturbance. This so-called postmodernist ideology cannot inspire the radicalism required to change the world.

This explains why this ideology is the one promoted by the dominant forces and the U.S. establishment in particular. Nothing could work better than this ideology to keep the dominant forces in place because it gives form to an apparent consensus of groups of individuals who are defined by their “irreducible particular identity.” I will express the reality of this functionality through the following image: if you hold the emblem of your alleged identity (the Koran, the Bible, or some other ethnic insignia) in one hand, as long as you hold a bottle of Coca-Cola in the other, you are not dangerous (even if you think you are!).

As a counterpoint, the affirmation of the need for science and universality as the only possible foundations for human civilization in no way implies an uncritical concept of modernity, because if the date of birth and the conditions for the formation of really existing modernity can be recognized, the latter has not reached the end of its journey (moreover, there is no end for the latter, history has no end). And since really existing modernity to date is that of capitalism, it falls to the societies of the world to go beyond this with a superior post-capitalist modernity.

If the reactionary involutions underway were to become dominant and reduce their opponents to silence, they would then contribute to overcoming capitalism through a process which I would qualify as the construction of a neo-tributary system.

Rebuilding the Internationalism of the Peoples against Imperialism

Judging by the analyses that I have put forward here regarding both Europe and the South, it seems that protest and opposition movements are far from having developed a coherent, solid, and alternative strategic vision that is up to the challenges. We must be courageous enough not to harbor illusions about this. Too many movements congratulate each other on their actions (which is perfectly legitimate) but do not admit the need to go further, much less discuss any shortcomings. A certain ideology of the movement claims the addition of all this resistance and opposition will, of its own accord, produce the alternative. Neither history nor theoretical reflection and observation of reality reinforce this simplistic point of view.

This proposal by no means pretends that the response to the challenge is easy. The necessary change in direction of the system of dominant ideas and values that the proposition implies is, in fact, enormous. It depends on the people at the centers of the system (Europeans in particular) reinventing a real left culture and breaking with capitalism and imperialism and, after the long series of successive chapters that constituted the political culture of the European left (the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the workers’ movement, and Marxism and the Russian Revolution), the imagination of the European people being capable of inventing a new chapter. It means people on the peripheries—the tempest zone—ridding themselves both of the illusion that development is possible in the context of capitalist globalization and alternative backward-looking fantasies, and coming up with alternatives for a breakthrough that measures up to the challenges and opportunities of our time. It means everyone reinventing suitable and effective modes of organization and political action, whose agenda of demands is full of questions for which there are still no convincing answers.

I will mention, very briefly, only a few of the main points of the challenge as I see them.

  1. Defining new historic subjects capable of mastering developments and giving them the directions desired.
  2. Defining the political strategic challenge that I propose to summarize in the following terms: creating programs that associate (rather than dissociate): (a) social progress, (b) democratic advances, and (c) respect for nations and peoples. This means, among other things, creating a European Union that is for nations rather than against them.
  3. Absorbing market socialization within a socialization by democracy that becomes gradually dominant.
  4. Transcending competition through solidarity by establishing the superiority of solidarity which, throughout history, has been the source of progress much more than competition.
  5. Translating effective regulation and protection policies into specific terms in order to progress towards socially equitable, ecologically sustainable, multidimensional development, which means giving the law greater authority than that of the contract (in accordance with the European tradition in conflict here also with that of the United States).
  6. Accurately assessing the demographic development of the European continent (the aging of which is not negative—except for those who are interested solely in maximizing profit—but the result of human progress). And responding correctly to migration (based on the rejection of the communitarian perspective), and in terms of financing retirement, based on the principle of redistribution and not on that of pensions funds that pit generations against each other.
  7. Identifying the constituent parts of anti-imperialist, popular and democratic, national hegemonic blocs in specific conditions of the various countries of the South and formulating the right strategic objectives for their stage.

Progress in these directions becomes synonymous with the progressive construction of the internationalization of the peoples. It is, in fact, a question of structuring the struggles of the peoples of the North (through the recomposition of the culture of the European left) and those of the peoples of the South. This necessary internationalism of the peoples—of all peoples—cannot be based on vague concepts of “human solidarity on a global scale,” which often focus on analyses of charity or impoverishment. The fights against poverty, for good governance, and the assertion of the common interests of humanity in the face of ecological challenges (increasing scarcity of resources, deterioration of climates) are emblematic of this idealistic (in the pejorative sense of the term) method which ignores the interests of the social groups concerned and their possible conflicts. The internationalism in question must be based on the identification of common interests in the face of a common adversary that can only be described as imperialist capitalism.

In its time, the third Leninist then Maoist International formed global alliances which—in theory and to some extent in practice—responded to an analogous challenge formulated within the conditions and limitations of the time. It is not a question of producing a remake of this chapter of history, which is definitively closed. The new structure of the anti-imperialist struggles in the North and South have still to be invented almost from A to Z.

Without claiming to be capable of more than formulating the question we are concerned with here, I propose to consider that this alternative construction depends first of all on derailing the U.S. plan for military control of the planet. This, in my opinion, is the necessary condition without which any democratic or social progress made anywhere will remain extremely vulnerable.

Another world, a better one, of course, is possible. Objective conditions exist for it to be so. There is no historic determinism prior to history. Tendencies inherent in the capitalist system clash with the resistance of forces that do not accept the effects of these. Real history is therefore produced by this conflict between the capitalist expansionist approach and those derived from the resistance of social forces that run counter to that expansion. The development of social struggles may bring different hegemonic blocs to power from those that govern the globalized neoliberal order in place, based on compromises between social interests whose diversity and divergence is acknowledged (capital-labor compromise blocs in capitalist centers, anti-compradore democratic-popular-national blocs in the peripheries). In this case, the state finds considerable room for maneuver in the context of a global system based on the principle of negotiated multipolarity. We must work to bring this about. Multipolarity is therefore synonymous with a real degree of autonomy for the states. This degree will be used in a given way defined by the social content of the state in question.

The present is characterized by the deployment of a U.S. hegemonic plan on a global scale. This is currently the only plan to occupy the entire world scene. There is no longer any counter plan that aims to limit the area subjected to U.S. control, as was the case at the time of bipolarity (1945–90); beyond the ambiguity of its origin, the European project has entered a phase of self-effacement; the countries of the South (the non-aligned countries in the Group of 77) whose ambition during the Bandung period (1955–75) was to put up a common front to Western imperialism have given up; and China itself, which is going its own way, has barely the ambition to protect its national plan (which is itself ambiguous) and does not present itself as an active partner in the global system.

Russia, China, and India are three strategic adversaries to Washington’s plans. The powers in office in these three countries are probably increasingly aware of this, as they seem to think that they can maneuver without clashing directly with the United States administration. A Euro-Asian rapprochement (Europe, Russia, China, and India) that would probably bring the rest of Asia and Africa with it and isolate the United States is certainly desirable and there are some indications in this direction, but we are still a long way from seeing its manifestation putting an end to Europe’s Atlanticist choice.

The challenges with which the construction of a real multipolar world is confronted are more serious than many “alterglobalists” think. In the short term, it is a matter of derailing Washington’s military plan. This is the condition that must be addressed in order to provide the degree of freedom necessary and without which any social and democratic progress and any advance in the direction of the construction of a multipolar system will remain extremely vulnerable.

The real multipolar world will only become a reality when the four following conditions are fulfilled:

  1. Europe must be well and truly on the way to building “another social Europe” (and therefore engaged in the long transition to global socialism) and it must begin its disengagement from its imperialist past and present. Clearly, this means more than simply abandoning Atlanticism and extreme neoliberalism.
  2. In China the path of socialism must prevail over the extremely adverse and illusory trend toward building a national capitalism that would be impossible to stabilize because it excludes the working class and peasant majorities.
  3. The countries of the South (peoples and states) must succeed in rebuilding a common front, which in turn provides room for maneuver and enables the popular classes not only to impose concessions in their favor but, beyond that, transforms the nature of the powers in place, replacing the dominant compradore blocs with national, popular, and democratic blocs.
  4. As regards the reorganization of the systems of national and international rights, progress must be made in a direction that reconciles respect for national sovereignty (by progressing from the sovereignty of the states to that of the people) with that of all individual and collective, political and social rights
2006, Volume 58, Issue 07 (December)
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