Imperialism unmasked

Globalisation Unmasked, 2001, 183pp and System In Crisis, 2003, 260pp, both by James Petras & Henry Veltmeyer, Zed Books, £14.95

Globalisation Unmasked, written before 9/11, is a critique of the ideology of globalisation. The authors delve deeper than the rhetoric of ‘the global interdependence of nations’, ‘the global village’ and ‘accumulation on a world stage’ by examining the class forces and relations involved. Imperialism is a better term to use. ‘The concept of globalisation argues for the interdependence of nations, the shared nature of their economies, the mutuality of their interests and the shared benefits of their exchanges. Imperialism, in contrast, emphasizes the domination and exploitation by imperial states and multinational corporations.’

Globalisation ideology promotes the neo-liberal economic agenda throughout the world as a natural unfolding of the market, obscuring the reality imposed on the majority by a tiny minority for selfish benefit. Globalisation was imposed to combat the capitalist crisis, including an over-accumulation of capital with fewer opportunities for investment with acceptable rates of profit and an intensification of international competition. Imposed at the time of, ‘The breakdown of communism, the defeats of the revolutionary left and the subsequent decline in labour and social movements.’

Many globalisation apologists argue that the nation-state is anachronistic or weak due to globalisation, but in fact, the nation state, far from weakening with globalisation, ‘became an essential political support in spreading the message.’ It is the imperialist states, using their control of the IMF and World Bank, which impose a uniform global policy. Nation-states set the rules for the WTO, EU, NAFTA etc to remove democratic accountability from anything that hinders neo-liberalism.

‘Non-elected officials play a major role in shaping macro-economic decisions that affect the basic structures of the economy and the living standards of nations.’ The state is strong; it is democratic accountability that has been weakened. ‘New authoritarianism,’ say the authors, ‘is a hybrid, combining electoral processes and individual freedoms with highly elitist decision-making structures...Citizens cannot engage in meaningful debates within a civic culture where threats and blackmail are the weapons of a set of interests.’ Capitalists threaten capital flight, factory relocations, stopping aid, sanctions, military force and bribe part of the electorate with proceeds from privatisation, tax cuts etc.

The chapter ‘Democracy and Capitalism’ provides a long account of democratic regimes throughout the world overthrown by imperialism, to which we could now add the kidnapping of Aristide in Haiti. They show democracy is contingent for the capitalist class. It depends whether ‘democratic rules are compatible with the perpetuation of capitalist property relations, the class structure and state institutions.’

The chapter ‘Privatisation’ describes ‘an attack on civil society and democratic politics.’ The role of NGOs is exposed, ‘The great majority of NGOs...are neither non-governmental in funding nor in their local collaborative policies’. Their role is to ‘contribute to the weakening of civic and social movements that confront the neo-liberal model’.

System in Crisis follows the neo-liberal/globalisation process beyond 9/11. Rather than the world changing because of 9/11, it was the relative decline in US economic and political power that necessitated a change in course: 9/11 was the excuse. The US economy was in recession and stock markets dropped. US imperialism had failed to dispose of Saddam Hussein, sanctions against Iraq, Iran, Libya and Cuba were being broken, and ‘The Palestinian intifada, the advance of the Columbian guerrillas and crises in neo-liberal client states further weakened the notion of a New World Order.’

In Latin America the ‘war on terror’ was preceded by the ‘war on drugs’ imposed by Clinton’s administration. Both ‘wars’ were used to impose US imperialist power. ‘The advance of the FARC/ELN in Colombia, together with the independent foreign policy of the Chavez regime in Venezuela and the revolutionary government of Cuba, represents the alternative pole.’ Venezuela was subjected to an attempted coup and Cuba to a tightened blockade with increased support for counter-revolutionaries. Plan Colombia was bolstered: ‘Airspace, sea coasts, and river estuaries were colonised by US armed forces. Military bases were established in El Salvador, Ecuador and Peru...and US officials established a direct operational presence in the defence ministry in Bogota.’

System in Crisis concentrates on Latin America, devoting a chapter to the Argentinean crisis. However, the book doesn’t just examine imperialist oppression, it documents and analyses the inevitable opposition to it, showing their victories, strengths and weaknesses. There are chapters on ‘Latin American peasants against the state’, ‘Indigenous peoples arise’ and ‘Los Piqueteros’ (the movement of unemployed in Argentina).

In ‘Right/Left polarisation’, the authors show the way forward achieved by some movements and lessons we need to learn in Britain. ‘The “street” and not the ballot box is the road to creating authentic forms of democratic representation against corrupt, impotent and complicit official political institutions...there is a striking contrast between the power, integrity and effectiveness of the mass, leftist socio-economic movements and the impotence, opportunism and marginality of the left electoral parties...The extra-parliamentary Left should decisively break its ties to the electoral Left and concentrate on expanding its mass base beyond its original sectoral constituencies, developing a strategy for state power...the extra-parliamentary Left must develop continuity of action, directly intervening in day-to-day struggles. Mass mobilisations at international events must become subordinated to the building of continuous organisations that lead to national class movements...[which] must confront the fact that the
main adversary is American and European imperialism, and not some vague notion of “globalisation” or “empire”.’

Highly recommended reading for all in the anti-capitalist and anti-war movement, it puts the politics and actions of the leaders of the British anti-war movement to shame. Victory to the oppressed peoples fighting imperialism!
David Hetfield

FRFI 180 August / September 2004


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