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Volume 2, Number 47              January 5 - 11, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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2003: A Year of Imperial Wars, Economic Crises and Popular Uprisings 

By James Petras

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The political and social struggles over the past decade have once again proven that the “prophets” of long cycles based on economic projections cannot understand the most profound events of contemporary history.  It is not the “the forces of production” but the “social relations of production” broadly understood as state power, productive systems and class relations, which are the driving forces of history.

Essentially the name of the system is not an amorphous “world capitalism” or “empire” but an imperialist system.  This system is not controlled by a sociologically vacuous “center” and “periphery” but concretely by a U.S. imperial state which has recolonized the Third World and subordinated imperial rivals in Europe and Asia.  The imperial state is not merely a product of “market forces” but a result of military and political power dictated by the dominant classes in the leading imperial economies.  The behavior of the dominant classes is less a derivative of “long cycles” and more a result of their strategic policies and political alliances.  To understand the momentous events of the past, present and future we need to have a theory that is derived from clearly identified political forces acting in concrete circumstances and not long term projections based on abstract formulations divorced from the principle political and social struggles.

There are four world-historic struggles in the imperialist system.  The first is the struggle of US imperialism to conquer the world, through wars  ( Iraq, Afghanistan ), military presence ( Colombia ), economic blockades ( Venezuela ), threats with weapons of mass destruction ( North Korea ) and diplomatic blackmail (Europe and Japan).  The second major struggle is found in national and social liberation movements, their resistance to imperialism and their ability to conquer political space – in the streets, countryside, jungles and parliaments throughout the world.  The third great struggle is between the dominant classes in the U.S., Europe and Japan seeking to expand investments, trade and conquer markets  throughout the world and the salaried, wage and unemployed workers suffering the consequences of  rapidly deteriorating domestic economies.  The fourth great conflict is between the imperialist regimes of war and conquest and the anti-imperialist, anti-war movements in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, North Africa and North America.  The outcomes of their struggle will have profound impact on the future of humanity for the next decade. 

In the short run, the U.S. imperialist state is prepared to engage in a series of wars of conquest, beginning in Afghanistan, Iraq and North Korea and continuing with Venezuela, Iran and other oil-rich countries.  The outcome is likely to strengthen the geo-political, geo-petroleum and military position of the U.S. in the world economy.

At the same time however the domestic economy is entering a deep recession which will weaken the financial and fiscal domestic foundations of the empire and have profound negative impact on the economies of the pro-imperialist regimes throughout the world which depend on U.S. markets and investments.

The combined impact of imperialist wars of conquest and a world wide recession strengthens the position of the advanced liberation movements in the Third World: the collapse of neo-liberalism, the breakdown of ‘free-trade’ , and the weakening of the pro-U.S. client as well as the center-left regimes favors the extra-parliamentary left movements.  Major uprisings are likely in the Arab world, powerful movements in Latin America could overthrow regimes in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and elsewhere.   Political pressure will increase for social transformations in Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay and Peru.  The combined effects of imperial wars, economic crises and powerful liberation movements will be a powerful stimulant to the growth of mass movements in Europe and to a lesser extent in Japan and North America.  Particularly in France, Italy and Spain significant struggle will emerge challenging the complicity of the regimes with the U.S. wars of conquest.  The growing unemployment resulting from the recession and the cuts in wages and social welfare can radicalize the European movements.

The political effects of the imperial wars, world recession and growth of liberation movements throughout the world is likely to intrude on the internal politics of the U.S.  However terror propaganda in all the mass media, large scale police state surveillance, a corrupt and impotent trade union leadership, and a two party system tied to the imperialist state will limit the direct political influence of the growing anti-war, anti-“globalization” movements in the U.S.

The European states, despite their trade conflicts with the U.S. and their symbolic and inconsequential “reservations” about U.S. wars of conquest, offer no resolute opposition.  The United Nations’ “debate” on the U.S. war is illustrative: the U.S. was able to secure a resolution providing it with a pretext for war; the U.S. arbitrary seizure of the documentation submitted to the U.N. Security Council, and the purging of eight thousand of the  eleven thousand pages met little opposition.  Without presenting any evidence, that Iraq was in ‘material breach’ of the U.N. resolution the U.S. scheduled an invasion of Iraq in February 2003.  Europe complained and then submitted to the U.S. diktat. 

In the Far East, Washington broke its agreement to supply energy to North Korea, accused the country of being a terrorist threat and prepares a war of aggression.  South Korea and Japan complain of U.S. aggression, but submit.  The opposition comes from millions of South Koreans who fear the U.S. more than the North Koreans.

Two thousand and three will be a decisive year in shaping the rest of the decade: in the short run U.S. imperialism will conquer Iraq though the use of arms of mass destruction based in part on information from the United Nations weapons inspectors.  The fact that most Iraqi weapons were destroyed by previous UN inspector teams will facilitate an easy military conquest.  The support of U.S. client states in the Middle East ( Kuwait, Turkey, Oman ) and its ally Israel will ensure the imperial success.  The imperial military offensive is based on Washington’s monopolization of weapons of mass destruction and the efforts to prevent other countries from developing them.  The campaign to disarm and destroy Iraq’s military capability is based on an imperial strategy of weakening future target countries and preventing them from securing weapons of deterrence.  Rumsfeld’s threats to wage war against North Korea seeks to prevent them from developing the military means to resist a U.S. invasion.  The ideology of  “anti-terror” and the “war against weapons of mass destruction” are propaganda tools to allow U.S. imperial conquest to take place with impunity, with few U.S. casualties, with a minimum of domestic political costs and a maximum of physical loss for the target country.

The short term military success of the imperial state however will not prevent the deepening recession – it will exacerbate it.  Rising oil prices, a declining dollar and ballooning deficits will severely test the U.S. economy.  The costs of imperial conquests will be passed on to the workers in the U.S. and more importantly to the Third World, especially Latin America.  This will take the form of greater transfers of wealth and increased militarization.  The client-regimes in Latin America will be forced to accept the rules of empire through ALCA.  Washington will demand the privatization of the state oil resources in Ecuador, Venezuela and Mexico, prompt, full payments of debts and the further lowering of trade barriers

The imposition of the added costs of empire building in Latin America occurs at a moment when major socio-political confrontations are occurring in Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia and the existing neo-liberal model is collapsing or on the brink of collapse in Brazil, Paraguay and Peru. 

Washington will find it extremely difficult to squeeze more economic resources from Latin America’s impoverished but combative people.  In the middle range, the clash between the military cost of empire and the declining domestic economy, the rising liberation movements and the collapsing neo-liberal Latin American economies will most likely put enormous pressure on the “center-left” regimes attempting to navigate a “middle course” -combining international agreements with the empire and  domestic social reforms.  The chain of Washington’s world empire has its weakest link in Latin America.

The unequal development of the socio-political movements in Latin America, their fragmentation and lack of national leadership is a most serious strategic weakness in the face of the centralized military and economic power of the U.S. imperial state.  While the World Social Forum is useful as a meeting ground for diverse debates and meetings, it does not provide the programatic and strategic cohesion needed to defeat the advance of empire and the decay of the client regimes.  What can be expected is that profound changes will take place at the level of the nation-states, which in turn can serve as a political pole or “ axis of virtue”  to provide political support to the burgeoning liberation movements in other countries.

No one can predict the full consequences of the U.S. imperial wars in 2003 because much will depend on the subjective response of the peoples of the world.  Much depends on the answer to many political questions:  Will the war precipitate an uprising in Saudi Arabia leading to more U.S. intervention and an escalation of conflict?  Will Israel expel millions of Palestinians during the U.S. invasion of Iraq precipitating a new round of Arab-Israeli conflicts?  Will the IMF agreements with Brazil precipitate a major default, a crises in the regime and a further radicalization?  Can the European regimes continue complicity with the U.S. in the face of a deepening economic crises, rising mass movements and the possible cutting off of oil supplies?  The answers to these questions cannot be deduced from abstract economic formulas about the “Crises of World Capitalism”.  The answers will be induced from the level of class and national consciousness expressed through direct political intervention. 

December 28, 2002 


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