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MMXVII: Imperium Terminus?

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” – Antonio Gramsci. 

“China is not a superpower, nor will she ever seek to be one… If one day China should change her colour and turn into a superpower, if she too should play the tyrant in the world, and everywhere subject others to her bullying, aggression and exploitation, the people of the world should identify her as social-imperialist, expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it.” – Deng Xiaoping

“The American century lasted from 1945 to 1955” – anonymous

 

The great game of Empire has raged since Europeans first set sail on the high seas and colonised the world. The Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, the Dutch and of course the British are all historically guilty of genocide, and their crimes will be recorded in the pages of history – or what remains of it should the human race survive.

After the two great wars of the 20th century, the former colonies of the great imperial powers acquired notional independence. But colonialism did not end there, it just shed its outer skin. Today’s world is colonised by the same global empire of ‘free trade’ and mercantile finance which has existed in continuity for half a millennium, from feudalism to capitalism and back again.

In 1600 Queen Elizabeth I chartered the world’s first too big to fail financial entity; essentially a drug cartel which later diversified into banking and arms trading. In the 1840s Britain flooded Chinese markets with cheap manufactured goods, destroying its economy and causing mass unemployment and depression, while bringing opium from India and Egypt, creating an epidemic of drug addiction. The opium wars are but one chapter in a history spanning several centuries – the same pattern of exploitation and intimidation has been repeated wherever the white man has set foot. Along the way there have been pockets of resistance; Lenin and Mao, Castro and Kim, Nkrumah and Lumumba, Nasser, Tito and Sukarno, who’ve struggled for independence and national sovereignty. Most have been neutralised or isolated.

So far as the capitalist west is concerned, nation-states exist to serve the bureaucratic needs of resource and rent extraction. This may take the form of military deployment, economic sanctions, crippling ‘aid’ packages or multi-lateral ‘free trade’ agreements. Where suitable agreements (read: absolute servitude) cannot be reached, governments are readily deposed, as in the cases of Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Chile, Congo, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Nicaragua, Panama, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Yugoslavia and Zaire. The list is seemingly endless, but these are just small fish. Since the fall of the Soviet Union recolonising China has been the West’s number one strategic goal, and the reason it is currently at war in seven countries.

War is the engine of the Western capitalist economy. It wasn’t FDR’s New Deal that pulled the US out of the Great Depression, it was 10 million men under arms. Under this model of inverted socialism (Military Keynesianism), the US defence budget currently stands at $700bn, paid for in lost jobs, unaffordable housing, education and healthcare, contaminated water, and veteran suicides.

Neoliberal economics is Cold War economics, framed by Cold War paranoia. In Reagan and Thatcher’s warped view of the world removing the social safety net was necessary to compete with the centralised economies of China and Russia in an arms race. The consequences of this false-logic have been devastating. The West has deindustrialised and financialised its domestic economies, outsourced its labour markets, and created mass unemployment and poverty, while local police are now furnished with army surplus hardware.

It gets worse. When your main gig is manufacturing weapons, you want to sell as many as possible – often this means selling to both sides in the same conflict. War is good for business. The Military-Industrial complex feeds the coffers of Wall Street, the City of London and the European Central Bank, which in turn control the levers of state power, leading to a cycle of perpetual war for profit.

The Anglo-American Empire is threatened by any rising power which might challenge its global hegemony. Having already decapitated pan-Arabism and pan-Africanism, there remains the challenge of Eurasian integration. To this end we’ve seen the invasion and virtual occupation of Afghanistan, and the entire Eurasian plate surrounded in an arc of military bases from the Korean Peninsula to the Persian Gulf. Result? Historic levels of cooperation and dialogue between Russia and China. Well played, not so much.

Another perennial threat to western hegemony is the potential marriage of German industry and Russian resources, which has led to the endless destabilisation of governments from the Black Sea to the Baltic, always making sure Russia and Germany are on opposite sides of each new conflict. This is nothing new, in fact this is the same strategy which was played out through two world wars last century. Today the EU stands on the brink of collapse. The European theatre is as ready for war as it was at any time between 1914 and 1945, but Frau Merkel is not Hitler, and Putin is not the Czar. Furthermore, the real centres of influence are no longer Washington, London and Brussels, but Beijing and Moscow, Tehran and New Delhi.

While the US President was in Europe shaking the can for NATO and pushing his “America First” agenda, Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed a summit of leaders from 29 countries in Beijing, spruiking his belt and road initiative (BRI) which seeks to promote international trade and investment between Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond. While the West and its key institutions; the IMF, the World Bank, the European Union, the UN, NATO, and the WTO, continue their junket of global plunder, China promises win-win development opportunities for all involved in the revived Silk Road project, pledging $124bn in infrastructure investment to build everything from roads, ports and high speed rail, through to schools and hospitals.

The age of gunboat diplomacy may be drawing to an end. Having hollowed itself out domestically, and overextended itself militarily, the Anglo-American world order now finds itself in deep crisis. This crisis may end with a bang or a whimper. While all out nuclear war is still a possibility, we live in hope that assured destruction will be a sufficient deterrent. Multipolarity has become the new realpolitik; Putin and Xi’s vision of a world order based on national sovereignty under the rule of international law stands in stark contrast to the naked imperialism of the West, which now finds itself with no way forward. Charting a new course for a world gone so insanely wrong was never going to be an easy task, but if we do somehow manage to step back from the brink of nuclear annihilation and throw off the chains of imperialism, there may be cause for cautious optimism.

 

10 comments

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  1. Susan

    Great read. Thank you

  2. silkworm

    Excellent.

  3. Roswell

    Damn good article, Sean.

  4. Phil

    The ‘free market’ west survives on the myth of democratic governance – but the myth is losing its hold as more and more evidence points to the reality that true democracy is an idea that has been thoroughly corrupted by the capitalist ethos.

    The shift in youth sentiment in the recent US election toward the quasi-socialist values articulated by Sanders – and the US youth polls show the young don’t see democracy through the same rose tinted lens as their older generations see it.

    I’m of the ‘much older’ generation and although I still firmly believe that true democratic governance should be our goal, I cannot help but feel we are moving further and further from ever achieving that goal. The alternative is frightening:

    Crony capitalism. Oligarchy. Elite Rule. Corrupted Parliamentary Processes. Politicians For Hire/Sale. Regulators Hobbled/Defunded. Citizen Activism Criminalised. Fourth Estate Corrupted and Coopted. Hyper Security State. Militarised Police Forces. Fear of Others as Political Priority. Return of Feudalism. Creeping Authoritarianism – this is the path we seem to be on in the west. Not there yet but heading that way in increments so that much of the foundational work will be in place before people realise what they have lost.

  5. stephentardrew

    Great article Sean. Spot on.

  6. Bill Plant

    Thank you Sean.

  7. wam

    It is very pleasant to read an article on ‘western hegemony’ without an abraham/christ/mohamad in sight. But sean, why ‘Frau’???

    Gramsci pre war, dillon post:
    today’s children are the children of dillon’s children and they are rich enough to vote against war. Are they strong enough to resist religious hegemony? Hope so, but indoctrination is powerful.
    ps
    arguably putin is a tsar and trump wants to be one’

  8. paulwalter

    Thanks again Sean. Should be compulsory reading for year 12 high school students in a civics class, except that we dont do civics/ social studies, current affairs in this country even with adults, let alone young people. Far better blindness so you wont know it when you fall off the cliff.

  9. Andreas Bimba

    I agree with Phil’s previous comment but Sean you fell off the rails a bit with this comment:

    “Putin and Xi’s vision of a world order based on national sovereignty under the rule of international law stands in stark contrast to the naked imperialism of the West”

    Putin’s numerous wars against mainly Muslim ethnic minorities such as the Chechens and against independent neighbouring nations like Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine and similarly Xi’s violent ongoing suppression of Tibetans and Uighars and the recent ‘land’ grab of the South China Sea right up to the coastline of neighbouring nations as well as the dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands; not to mention the lack of representative democracy and independent judiciaries in both nations, shows that both do not fit your earlier comment.

    China’s economic investments and commercial influence over the wider world is also about pursuit of Chinese business and political interests which is little different to the way the Western nations corporations have operated. Even the military meddling by Russia and China in various disputes is much the same as the Western powers.

    If anything the U.S. and much of the so called West are losing what level of democracy they had and are becoming feudal, autocratic, capitalist states that predominantly benefit their most wealthy elites, much like present day Russia and China. We are becoming very like them where life for a common citizen in the West, China or Russia is becoming much the same i.e. relative individual and economic freedom within the rules defined by the elites but also political powerlessness and regularly ignored injustices such as homelessness, mass unemployment, poverty, stagnant or declining incomes, unjust imprisonments, police violence, debt servitude, sociopathic government organisations, trade union suppression, mass media propaganda, environmental destruction and so on.

  10. Kevin Arnold

    After the first Gulf War there was a programme on SBS and a discussion on the web later. Among all the anti US contributions was one which said simply, “it’s all about the Euro”. During a recent visit to Germany I was reminded of this. Germany is booming. It gets more out of the EU than all the rest combined. The article above mentioned combining German industry with Russian resources. Angela Merkel is enjoying greater popularity and even Putin polled higher than Trump in a recent poll. He may not be well liked, but détente between the two would put the USA world dominance, already at risk by the rise of China, under even more strain. Brexit, refugees, terrorism, Ukraine, is it all about the Euro?

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