Socialist Worker

Anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism & revolution

Millions have joined the global protests against war and against capitalist globalisation. How can we fuse these struggles to change the world, asks Alex Callinicos

Issue No. 1870

THE anti-war protests around the world this weekend are another step in the development of a genuinely global movement of resistance to the present rulers of the world. Many protesters recognise that the problem goes much deeper than George W Bush and Tony Blair.

Some liberals may look back nostalgically to the presidency of Bill Clinton. But General Wesley Clark, the Democratic presidential candidate closest to him, commanded the NATO forces that bombed Yugoslavia into submission on Clinton's orders in 1999. Moreover, the domination of the world by a few big bullies takes different forms. A fortnight ago the World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference at Cancun in Mexico collapsed in disarray.

This happened because the two greatest economic powers in the world-the United States and the European Union-went too far in trying to force the poor countries of the South to open up their economies even more to the great corporations of the North. The failure of these efforts was a major defeat for neo-liberalism-the free market policies that institutions such as the WTO, International Monetary Fund and World Bank have sought to impose globally on behalf of the rich countries.

Many activists now recognise the connections between different issues. To see American corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton get contracts to rebuild Iraq even before the Pentagon started knocking it down is worth dozens of lectures on imperialism.

These connections stem from the fact that we all live under the same world system-capitalism. The main driving force of capitalism is economic-the search for profits. The source of these profits comes from the labour of nearly a billion wage labourers worldwide.

The system is constantly restructuring itself in order to find the best opportunities to exploit these workers. For example, in the past few years Western multinationals have been pouring investment into China to profit from its vast workforce.

Capitalism is driven also by competition. The capitalists struggle among themselves for the greatest possible share of the loot that they have collectively squeezed out of the workers. Despite uniting to impose neo-liberalism on the Third World and on the countries of the old Eastern Bloc, the US and the EU continually clash over trade.

This competition isn't just economic. By the beginning of the 20th century the world was dominated by a handful of capitalist powers whose economic rivalries became interwoven with the struggle for global political and military domination.

This is what Karl Marx's intellectual heirs a century ago called imperialism. Giant corporations, in their search for markets and investment, had become dependent on the military power of their respective states. Out of these struggles came first the appalling destruction inflicted on humankind during the two world wars, and then the carnage and waste caused by the long Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union.

At the start of the Cold War George Kennan of the US State Department wrote, 'We have about 50 percent of the world's wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this disparity without positive detriment to our national security.'

This remains the task of America's rulers today. The US emerged from the Cold War as the dominant imperialist power. But the neo-conservatives who help shape the Bush administration's global policy fear this 'hegemony' will not last. The US is militarily unchallenged, but it faces economic rivals such as the EU and Japan. China's rapidly expanding economy may one day allow it to challenge the US as a 'peer competitor' for regional or even global domination. The Bush administration has gambled on asserting US military power to intimidate the rest of the world into submission. But it looks as if this gamble may not pay off.

In Iraq the Anglo-American occupying army is becoming bogged down in the face of growing armed resistance. Even the compliant American media and political establishment are beginning to utter the dread word 'Vietnam'.

Moreover, the war in Iraq has widened the divisions among the leading capitalist powers-France and Germany versus the US and Britain. These divisions encouraged Third World governments to resist the demands of the US and the EU in Cancun. The Filipino activist and intellectual Walden Bello is quite right to say that neo-liberal capitalism is experiencing a growing 'crisis of legitimacy'. But how do resistance movements take advantage of this crisis?

Some believe that we can find allies among the world's rulers. Leading anti-capitalist intellectuals such as George Monbiot and Bernard Cassen argue for building up the EU as a counterweight to the US. But the EU is one of the driving forces behind neo-liberalism. At Cancun Pascal Lamy, the European trade commissioner, was even more vicious in his demands from the Third World than his US counterpart, Robert Zoellick.

Building up the EU as a military power, as the French and German governments now propose, might unleash an arms race that, like the Cold War, could threaten to wipe out humanity.

We need to be similarly cautious about the governments of powerful Third World states such as Brazil, India and South Africa that led the opposition at Cancun. All of them are pushing through neo-liberal policies domestically, while India is ruled by extreme right wing Hindu chauvinists.

More fundamentally, the basic problem is the system. Rather than back one gang of the thieves and murderers who rule the world against another, we need to get rid of capitalism. We need a revolution. 'Revolution' is a word that frightens many people. It conjures up images of violence. But the main source of violence really involved in revolutions is that of counter-revolution.

History shows that the rich and powerful will ruthlessly fight to defend their privileges. The most recent example is the 'other 11 September'-Chile 1973, when a military coup overthrew President Salvador Allende. The example of the Bush administration shows beyond any doubt the determination of the rich to rule by force. But there is a counter to their power. After the global day of anti-war protest on 15 February, the New York Times announced that this movement marked the emergence of a 'second superpower'.

The present anti-war movement is unprecedented in its scale and global reach. It is also marked by a growing consciousness of the convergence between resistance to war and the movement against global capitalism that began at Seattle in 1999. Reflecting this consciousness, the European Social Forum will bring tens of thousands together in Paris in November. Of course, the movement didn't stop Bush and Blair from conquering Iraq. It hasn't ended the occupation-though there is a chance that, in combination with resistance in Iraq, it will.

The movement's fundamental weakness so far is that it has failed really to mobilise the strength of the organised working class. Because capitalist exploitation consists in the labour of workers, they have the power collectively to paralyse it and even to bring it to an end.

So far we have had only glimpses of what this could mean-in the presence of trade union contingents on the great anti-capitalist and anti-war protests, and in the strikes and workplace protests that greeted the invasion of Iraq in March.

One reason why the movement needs organised socialists is to connect the broader movement against neo-liberalism with the daily battles of workers against their exploitation.

When these two struggles fuse into a single onslaught against the system, we won't just say, 'Another world is possible.' We'll make that world for real.

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Sat 27 Sep 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1870
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