A new civilizational pluripolarity
From the East or from the South?
In “In the transition to a new civilization: The military confrontation in Ukraine,” published in the website Observatorio de la crisis, Wim Dierckxsens and Walter Formento maintain that there is today a global struggle between what they call “unipolar financial globalism” and “multipolar plurinational pluriversalism.” Dr. Wim Dierckxsens is Coordinator of the International Observatory of the Crisis and is one of the founding members of the Global University for Sustainability. He was born in the Netherlands in 1946 and obtained degrees at Tilburg University, the Sorbonne, and the University of Nijmegen. Walter Formento is Director of CIEPE in Argentina.
My commentary today reviews and reflects on the article by Dierckxsens and Formento.
Russia defends itself against NATO aggression
Dierckxsens and Formento maintain that since 1999 NATO has adopted the objectives of globalist unilateralism, and to this end, it has progressively expanded to the East, incorporating the former Soviet republics. The turn was indicated by the NATO “intervention” in the former Yugoslavia, in which NATO in effect constituted itself as the “armed wing of the globalist forces.” A similar scenario has been envisioned by some with respect to Moscow.
In February 2007, Putin delivered a key speech in Munich, in which he denounced Anglo-Saxon unipolar globalism. Russia, he declared, had to draw a red line, and it was drawing the line in Ukraine. Therefore, leading American diplomats and officials have known that there would be war if NATO were to expand to the Russian border. Ukrainian President Yanukovych had pledge to respect Russia’s red line, before being deposed by the U.S.-supported coup d’état in 2014.
NATO has been carrying out multiple military actions in Ukraine since 2014, Dierckxsens and Formento maintain. The war did not begin in 2022 but in 2014, when the West and NATO supported a far-right uprising, which culminated in the coup d’état. Since then, NATO and the Pentagon have been supplying neo-Nazi paramilitary groups with resources, war materiel, and training, including support for the Azov battalion, which has operated undercover as the National Guard of Ukraine. In addition, NATO and the Pentagon have been installing biological and bacteriological warfare and nuclear war capabilities in Ukraine, according to Dierckxsens and Formento.
In 2019, a Rand report, ¨Russia Overextension and Imbalance: Assessing the Impact and Costs of Possible Options,” proposed the financing of a conflict in Ukraine. It recommended avoiding direct war with Russia, anticipating that Russia would easily win. However, it put forth the objective of an economic and political collapse of Russia through severe economic sanctions imposed in conjunction with a proxy war.
On February 21, 2022, the Russian Federation recognized the two breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, which had been resisting since the 2014 coup. Moscow then proceeded to a defense of the pro-Russian areas and a military advance on Ukraine. The objectives of the Russian military operation are demilitarization, or the elimination of laboratories for the development of biological, bacteriological, and nuclear arms; and denazification, or the dismantling of the pro-NATO ultranationalist paramilitary groups that have been persecuting the culturally Russian population. In the view of Dierckxsens and Formento, the Russian military action constitutes an effort to stop the technical military actions of NATO and the globalists and to dismantle its plan of action.
Dierckxsens and Formento maintain the Russian military operation in Ukraine has been successful in attaining its objectives. Russia controls more than 80% of Ukrainian territory, and Russian military and technological machinery enables effective control of the entirety of Ukrainian territory. There are pockets of resistance by Nazi paramilitary forces, but they do have the capacity to change the situation. Having completed the first phase of its military operation, involving demilitarization and denazification, Russian forces now are returning to Donbass to put an end to the last resistance. Russia now is pushing in negotiations for a government in Ukraine that does not respond to the interests of Anglo-Saxon globalism and NATO. In addition, with a victory on the military front, Russia expects to be in a position to negotiate with strength with respect to the elimination of the sanctions that have been applied against it and to negotiate with NATO the dislodging of NATO from Eastern European spaces.
Toward a Multipolar World
Dierckxsens and Formento see the conflict in Ukraine in the context of the decline of Western civilization, which is indicated by the West’s abandonment of investment in real production and its turn to obtaining money through unproductive finance capitalism. The West is increasingly tied, they note, to the fictitious or parasitic economy, with the real economy having a subordinated position; the West does not invest with the intention of growing the real economy. In this situation of decline, the West exercises power over the rest of the world through the actions of its central banks and local financial cities, with the support of military power.
Dierckxsens and Formento maintain that the turn to unipolar financial globalism emerged from the conflict between the unipolar financial globalists and the North American continentalist unipolar actors, who had been imposing free trade since 1980, through such initiatives as NAFTA and the failed proposal for FTAA. The victory of the unipolar globalists in a financial civil war was heralded by the repeal in 1999 under the Clinton administration of the 1933 Glass Steagall Act, which blocked the fusion of commercial banking and offshore financial banking. Beginning in 1999, globalists were able to take control of large commercial banks and financial networks in the USA, which ensure their control of industrial corporations. They constitute a transnational global power that denies the importance of national identity and that seeks to weaken or destroy the national identities of the peoples. Dierckxsens and Formento note that Trump represented the oligarchic nationalism of local finance capital, pushing back against both the globalists and the continentalists, but Biden retook the road of Clinton and Obama in representing the globalists.
In contrast to the Western abandonment of real economies and national identities, the economy of China is oriented to investment in the real economy, in accordance with state planning. For this reason, China rises, while the West declines.
Since 2014, unipolar financial globalists have been using in Ukraine, as in other regions of the world, the various tactics of a “hybrid” war, with the objective of weakening those states seeking to develop an alternative to a world controlled by concentrated unproductive finance capital. In the case of Ukraine, their tactics include a media war with hysterical connotations designed to force the alignment of NATO member countries and to legitimize the severest economic sanctions against Russia. Their plan is to break Russia, and then move on to China.
But financial capital cannot control the world, Dierckxsens and Formento maintain, precisely because of its unproductivity. Nations like China that are structured to promote productivity in the real economy have the advantage in the long run. NATO aggression in Ukraine is the last desperate gasp of finance capital in decline. In breaking the last efforts of Western civilization in decline, Russia is clearing the way for the emergence of an alternative pluripolar world, with China and Russia in the lead.
Russia, Dierckxsens and Formento maintain, is in a position to withstand the impact of the economic sanctions. Prior to the direct confrontation, in anticipation of sanctions, Russa reached an agreement with China to transfer its oil and gas exports to China. Conditions already exist, as a dimension of the emerging pluripolar world, for China to pay Russia outside the structure of the dollar and at relatively favorable prices. On the other hand, the sanctions will generate high prices for oil and gas in Europe, leading to inflation and recession.
Dierckxsens and Formento maintain that economic sanctions against Russia, Iran, and Venezuela will cause countries to avoid holding dollars in reserve. Especially important is the denial of access to Russia’s gold reserves and its dollar and euro deposits in Western banks. Such political manipulation of the dollar undermines its legitimacy as an international reserve currency. Similarly, the exclusion of Russian banks from the SWIFT system may cause banks to look for an alternative interbank communication system.
This lack of confidence will be especially strong in the countries of the global South. As Dierckxsens and Formento observe in “El Sur Global en camino al multipolarismo,” published in ALAI:
“Many countries of the global South would be disposed to not follow the road marked by the globalist financial institutions, simply because they adopt illegal measures according to international law (like the freezing of bank accounts). These are increasingly fragrant and provocative acts of pillage or robbery. The result is that no county of the global South can trust the existing international monetary system, which brings with it a loss of the fundamental legitimacy of international institutions.”
In my last commentary, I discussed the proposal by a Russian economist for the development of an international currency that would be an index average of national currencies tied to the prices of key products in the world economy. See “A just world economic order: Influential Russian economist speaks of global realities,” April 19, 2022.
From the East, or from the South?
In For a New Civilization: The Multipolar Project, Dierckxsens and Formento formulate the contradiction between unipolar financial globalism and multipolar plurinational pluriversalism as a contradiction between West and East, in which the East is represented by China and also by Russia. They see a contrast between a “globalist Unipolar Western Way and a Multipolar Eastern Way,” in which the Western way is based on individualism, and the Eastern way is based on community or collectivity.
I find this to be an unsatisfactory formulation that overlooks key dimension of the human story. To be sure, it is true, as Dierckxsens and Formento write, that “China has created its own international trade institutions, its own digital currency with global projection and constituted an economic bloc through economic agreements of mutual benefit (win-win) with most of the world, including the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Australia, Africa and Latin America.”
However, the pluripolar project that China is advancing is not a creation of China. It is a construction of the Third World, and it is a project in which China, in the current stage of its socialist development, has arrived to assume a position of leadership.
The fundamental divide in the world today is not between Eastern and Western civilizations; it is between the colonizer and the colonized. Modernity and capitalism came into being intertwined with European conquest and colonial domination of vast regions or the earth, lands of diverse civilizations and cultures. The conquest and colonial transformation of the world’s political-economic systems promoted the underdevelopment of the colonized and the rapid acceleration of the economic development of the countries of the colonizers, made possible through the superexploitation of the labor of the colonized and unlimited access to markets and natural resources.
As a powerful testimony to the universal human interest in emancipation and social justice, European colonialism gave rise to anti-colonial movements. The anti-colonial movements of Latin America, Asia, and Africa possessed in common the characteristic, not necessarily anticipated from the perspective of common-sense understanding, of the appropriation of philosophical and political principles from the European world, but deepening and expanding their meaning in accordance with the experiences and rights of the colonized peoples.
Thus the central dialectic of the modern world is between, on the one hand, colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism, and on the other hand, the anti-imperialist movements of the colonized peoples, seeking an alternative, more just and democratic world order defined by the sovereign equality of nations. The dialectic expressed itself in the form of competition among imperialist states and conflict between imperialist states and anti-imperialist states; and class conflicts within nations, in which imperialist interests were represented by national elites.
The anti-colonial and anti-imperialist political/ideological formulation was expressed in a conference in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955. Leading figures in the anti-colonial movements were present, including Sukarno of Indonesia, Nehru of India, Nasser of Egypt, Zhou En-lai of China, and U Nu of Burma. The Bandung conference advocated cooperation as the necessary basis of international relations, standing against European colonialism and Western imperialism. It hoped to break the core-peripheral pattern of trade, in which the Third World nations export raw materials and import manufactured goods, a structure imposed by the colonial process.
The spirit of Bandung led to the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1961. Hosted by Tito, the founding Summit included Ben Youssef of Algeria, Nkrumah of Ghana, and Osvaldo Dorticós, the President of Cuba. The founding Summit called for the democratization of the United Nations, in response to the disproportionate power in the international organization exercised by the imperial powers.
Through the 1960s and the 1970s, the Non-Aligned Movement continued to formulate the principles of a more just world, characterized by respect for the sovereignty of nations, non-interference in the internal affairs of states, and the development of mutually beneficial trade among nations. After a period of ideological confusion during the 1980s and 1990s, the Non-Aligned Movement retook the formulation of its classic period, led by Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran. Today, the Non-Aligned Movement has 120 member nations, and it continues to call for a more just, democratic, and sustainable world order. It rejects unipolar financial globalism.
Modern China pertains to the Third World project. Chinese socialism, Chinese Marxism, and the Communist Party of China emerged in the beginning of the twentieth century in the context of a tendency among Chinese intellectuals of opposition to Western imperialism. Following its taking of power, the Chinese socialist revolution ended the Chinese government’s policy of accommodation to bourgeois and foreign interests, thereby making possible the modernization of the country. It was guided by a Chinese reformulation of Marxism-Leninism, taking into account the particular conditions of China. The Chinese socialist project has gone through different stages with respect to the degree of space for private and foreign capital in its state-directed economy, in the context of a state that is ruled by socialist political structures of people’s democracy.
As Chinese foreign policy evolved, it arrived in recent years to concurrence with the principles formulated by the Non-Aligned Movement as well as by the organizations of regional unity being forged by the countries constructing socialism in Latin America and the Caribbean. Thus, China arrives to affirm the principles of South-South cooperation and mutually beneficial trade. On the foundation of these principles, China is expanding its trade with Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. This is not an ideological stretch for China, because it retakes principles formulated by the Chinese revolution in the 1950s and 1960s.
China is of the Third World, but it is a special case. It was a traditional empire and one of the great civilizations of humanity, to some extent able to resist the military advances of the Western imperialisms of the nineteenth century. It thus was semi-colonized rather than colonized by the West. It had humiliating unequal treaties imposed, coopting its ruling class, but its political-economic system did not experience the fundamental transformations imposed by conquest and colonialism in other lands. In the context of this situation, being of the colonized but not completely so, and having the collective memory of a great empire and civilization, Chinese Marxism at the beginning of the twentieth century took a perspective in support of national sovereignty and against Western imperialism, yet appropriating critical progressive ideas from the West, in accordance with the general pattern of the colonized peoples throughout the world. But being a great empire, even if in decay, it had the capacity to modernize and economically develop, ultimately placing it in a position of leadership among the colonized peoples in their quest for a more just and democratic world. This ideological orientation has emerged with clarity in the era of Xi Jin Ping. Thus, China has emerged to a leadership role in a global process that was much larger than China and even Asia, inserting itself into that process as an anti-imperialist world power.
See “China and the Third World,” October 1, 2021.
Russia, on the other hand, was never of the Third World. Tzarist Russia was one of the competing imperialisms during the great expansion of the capitalist world-economy of the nineteenth century. However, it did experience Western European penetration of its economy, resulting in a partial peripheralization, and it was what Lenin considered a backward economy. The Soviet Union stood against Western penetration, and on the basis of sovereign control and state direction of its economy, it forged a rapid industrialization, reconstituting itself as a regional power with some pretensions to being a global power. During the Soviet era, it was aligned with the Third World anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles, although inconsistently in practice. Today, in the era of Putin, Russia retakes the historic anti-imperialist projection of the Soviet Union, and it allies itself with the anti-imperialist struggle of the Non-Aligned Movement and socialist or socialist-inspired governments of the Third World. It provides concrete support to the nations of the Third World in the form of mutually beneficial trade, which is especially important for those anti-imperialist Third World nations under siege in the unconventional war launched by the United States in 2014. Like China, Russia has developed a positive relation with a process that is much larger that its region of the world.
In the context of the decadence of Western imperialism and the threat that it poses for humanity, China and Russia cast their lot with the South, joining a global struggle that dates to the early nineteenth century, a struggle for a world order of sovereign nations seeking cooperation and mutually beneficial trade.
Dierckxsens and Formento frame the world transformation in process as a transition from a unipolar world dominated by the United States and by the assumption of Western civilization to a pluripolar world guided by the assumptions of Eastern civilization, with China and Russia playing leading roles. This frame obscures the variety of civilizations of humanity, which scholars in the field of the study of civilizations have identified: China, Indochina, India, the Islamic World, Russia and the world of Eastern Christendom, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the West (including the European settler societies of North America and Australia).
The modern process of European colonial domination created a new dialectic of imperialism and anti-imperialism that fundamentally shapes the world today. But the European process of colonial domination did not obliterate the great civilizations of humanity. All the modern anti-imperialist movement were shaped by the traditional civilizations in their respective regions, and for this reason, there are differences in the characteristics of the anti-imperialist movements in the various regions of the world.
When we vision today a pluripolar world, we are not merely seeing a world economy in which there are several economic poles. We are seeing a world in which there are several political-economic-cultural poles, each with their own historic collective memory, each developing a just and democratic society with particular characteristics, and each affirming the common principles to which all of humanity is bound, necessary to ensure that all will flourish.
China has emerged today as a vanguard nation in the struggle of humanity for a pluripolar world. But China did not create the struggle. The struggle is a common struggle of all the peoples of humanity, forged by them in indignant rejection of the arrogance of Western conquerors and imperialists. A common struggle that unites us all, including uniting us in appreciation of the great civilizations that humanity had created before certain European states got the bad idea that they had the right and the duty to conquer the world.
It is not a question of East versus West. It is a question of the peoples of humanity, with their different histories and cultures, standing in unity against an anti-human global elite.
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