The Bipolar World?
In recent weeks China and the US have taken more hostile stands militarily. This is expressed in China's opposition to the current joint US-South Korea military exercises in the Yellow Sea. The US has also intervened in the dispute between China and Vietnam over Islands in the South China Sea. This military standoff represents a deeper falling out politically as China has refused to concede to the full sanctions on Iran demanded by the US, and now stands to gain as the EU cuts off all investment. War preparations against Iran continue meanwhile. China has also taken a clear stand for an independent Afghanistan against a permanent US base in the heart of central Asia. China is likely to back Pakistan in any fallout with the US over support for the Taliban. China also stands to gain from Pakistan's influence over the Pashtun which leads to a moderate Pashtun state or Pashtun control of Afghanistan.
Behind the political fall-out is the growing economic rivalry between the US the hegemonic imperialist power on the wane, and a rapidly growing China which is now the US main rival in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This rivalry has intensified with the onset of a global recession in 2007 which saw the US, EU and Japanese economies go into recession, while China continued to grow rapidly. The global capitalist crisis continues to deepen and threatens to slide into a double-dip recession or depression. It will widen the gap between the US and China and push the US into a more aggressive projection of its military power in Asia where it is determined to create a permanent base in Afghanistan, in Africa where Africom now mobilises US and African forces in many countries, and in Latin America were the US stage the coup in Honduras, has 7 new bases in Colombia, and renewed its occupation of Haiti. In all of these new expanding US military fronts, the US is using its military superiority with the main objective of pushing back China's expanding economic power.
The inter-imperialist rivalry between the two imperialist poles, the US bloc and the China bloc, explains the current military escalation in East Asia. China's economy continues to grow at almost 10%. US investments in China continue to grow. US firms rely on the China market to avoid bankruptcy. General Motors is contracting in the US but expanding in China. Apple is now taking advantage of the growing Chinese middle class. China is now outstripping Japan as the No 2 world economy. At this rate it could catch up with the US within two decades or less. Thus the US is trapped in its relations with China. Without its investments in China the US would be in a deep depression. So the US strategy with China is to increase its economic share of China's labor power, resources and market. Yet China is now powering away from the US accumulating more capital from its FDI proportionately than the US. China against its image of projecting 'soft power' is making tough deals in the semi-colonial countries and raking in superprofits.
Thus the mixed motives of the US towards China's dynamic economy means that the US wants to similtaneously dominate China's economy short of any all-out direct military confrontation. Its current tactics are to push China back, but not so far as to force a serious breakdown in relations. Instead the US uses the big stick to make Japan backdown on evicting the US base from Okinawa, and to allow more US bases in Japan. Then there is the re-awakening of the Korean war which has been halted only by an armistice since 1953, the Cheonan incident and the South Seas conflict with Vietnam. All of this is the result of a policy in which the US attempts to both profit from and yet contain China. The further away from China the more the US is prepared to stoke up its client regimes to confront China. As we discuss below this opens up the immediate prospect of proxy wars on every contient. What is the likely outcome of this bipolar scenario?
From multipolar to bipolar rivalry
As we have argued at length elsewhere, the only explanation for the behaviour of China today is as an emerging imperialist power. This is the only way we can account for its phenomenal growth and its global influence. We put this down to the unique features of China being an ex-workers state able to retain both the territorial internal colonies of its former workers state, as well as the strongly centralised state apparatus and state planned economy. The Stalinist bureaucracy was able to transform itself into a powerful capitalist class retaining control over the Chinese economy. Opening up to the global market and to foreign investment provided the new ruling class with access to modern technology and a platform from which to catch up with the most productive capitalist economies. The rapid capital accumulation that resulted now had to be invested globally to maintain the rising level of raw materials and labour power required to maintain the high growth rate. As a result China emerged as the only new imperialist power since the rise of Japan in the period between the world wars of the 20th century. Yet it couldnt expand into the global economy unless it was able to displace existing imperialist powers.
China is still an emerging imperialist power that has only begun to invest heavily globally in significant amounts since 2000, and it's growth has been at the expense of the US and its traditional imperialist allies, notably France, Spain and to a lesser extent Japan. This is evident in both China's inroads into the spheres of influence of the European powers in all three continents. This is true where China is replacing its rivals as the dominant political and economic power, as in Latin America where it has formed strong alliances with the Bolivarian and other populist regimes in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. It is also evident in Africa were a number of states are entering into 'strategic partnerships' with China at the expense of the US and the EU. It is also reflected in the willingness of China to form JVs with European oil and mining corporations such as Total and BP -notably with BP in Iraq and Total in Latin America and China itself.
Thus the US and EU imperialist powers have been weakened by the rise of China. In particular the bipolar world acts to pull Europe apart. Russia is within the China pole outside the EU and NATO and a main partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Russia has a strategic relationship with Germany to trade oil and gas for the latter's high tech industries to modernise the Russian economy. Germany is torn between Russia and the EU in imposing tough new sanctions on Iran. While France, UK, Germany fall in behind a tougher stand to isolate Iran, Russia pulls in the other direction. It seems then that the Germany Russia relationship is engaged in a tug of war at the centre and can shift towards one or other pole depending on who controls Caspian oil. Even more important we can see that Germany is now strengthening its relations with China. Since the global recession Germany has moved closer to China as its biggest export market and a major site for German FDI. In 2009 Germany's exports overall declined by 18% while its exports to China grew by 7%. It now recognises 'one China' and has softened its criticisms of China's 'human rights' abuses. All of this points to opposing forces splitting Europe as Germany, Ukraine and Turkey move away from the US pole towards the China pole.
The other states that are most affected by the bipolar pull are the former Soviet republics of Eastern Europe and of Central Asia that made up the sphere of influence of the former Soviet Union and who's economics are all going with the flow of Caspian oil. In 2001 Russia and China formed the SCO with most of the former soviet republics of Central Asia - Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan - as Pepe Escobar puts it a "security blanket" between it and Afghanistan. But SCO is much wider and forms the potential anti-US global bloc of states. Iran, India and Pakistan have "observer" status, and increasingly aligned to the SCO are the other members of the BRIC, India and Brazil, as well as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The recent tensions between the US and Pakistan over Afghanistan and between Israel and Turkey may indicate a further pull towards the China/Russia pole. Tensions in Central Asia such as the recent coup in Kyrgyzstan suggest that the US bloc is losing ground to the China/Russia bloc.
Reformist illusions in China
Most of the revolutionary left is locked in the 20th century conception of China as a form of workers state, a market socialism, or a capitalist semi-colony dominated by US and Japanese imperialism, or some hybrid thereof. For the reformist left that supports the Bolivarian and Cuban road to socialism, China is a form of market socialism that is helping the 'developing' countries of the South to escape the exploitation of the US and the IMF and World Bank. For them China is not interested in colonising these countries but in a mutually beneficial economic 'cooperation'. The fabled 'win win' solution. It therefore does not impose an imperialist policy on its trading partners. China has no need of military expansionism since it is growing on the basis of its competitive advantage. Therefore, in any military confrontation with the US and other imperialist powers, or in any proxy war between China and the US, China should be defended.
What the reformist left fails to recognise is that China has made a rapid transition from a bureaucrat workers state, via state capitalism to become an emerging imperialist power. There is no 'win win' scenario except for the Chinese ruling class and its national capitalist junior partners. The workers and poor peasants in both China and its 'strategic partners' face the same old capitalist zero-sum game. We pay you zero and we take the sum. Capitalist China cannot expand as a benign capitalist power but must adopt an expansionist imperialist policy. This means that the left cannot explain the reality of a China today as a powerful, global force now coming into conflict with the US and its main allies. It is clear that such an open conflict invalidates the idea of China as dependent or subservient to other imperialist powers, or acting in a benign way that does not pose a threat to other imperialist states. If that were the case China would not be expanding economically, nor would it be facing political and military opposition from the established imperialist powers.
The failure to understand China's transformation from workers state to imperialist power means that the revolutionary left is disarmed in the event of this military standoff leading to active hostilities. What if China's military got into a skirmish with the US over say Taiwan or the DPRK? What if China came into conflict with Israel or the US over Iran? What if Zimbabwe which is armed by China went to war against the US proxy regime in Uganda of Rwanda? Or if the situation in the Sudan blew up and the North which is armed by China invaded the South backed by Uganda and armed by the US? Any of these scenarios pose the question as to which side to revolutionaries defend.
Revolutionaries in a bipolar world
What is the revolutionary position? We recognise the right of oppressed countries to defend themselves against imperialism. Thus Iran, Taiwan, DPRK, Zimbabwe, Sudan etc all have the right to defend themselves from any aggressive imperialist power. However, if any of them acts as the direct proxy for any imperialist power, then we cannot defend them without defending the imperialist backers. Thus, since we say China is imperialist, we cannot back China in any direct or proxy war with other imperialist powers. By direct we means the direct involvement of the imperialist powers. The escalation of the Korean conflict could potentially drag China into defending its claim to Taiwan, its historic defence of the DPRK, or the South China Seas. For reasons outlined above this is an unlikely scenario at the present though as tension rises the potential for a clash is ever present. Right now, proxy wars in other parts of the world are more likely to become flash points as in Iran, Venezuela and Central Africa. In all of these cases any attack by the US or other imperialist powers is to recover these nations as part of their particular sphere of interests. Thus it is the increasing loss of the resources in these countries to China that forces the US to go to war.
For example, in Iran the US lost control with the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. Ever since the it has been hostile to the Islamic regime and seeking to overthrow it in favour of a US friendly leadership. Further destabilisation via a color revolution or sanctions will lead inexorably to open war as neither the Islamic regime nor China as its main backer will accede to US demands. In a war with the US, Israel, NATO or the UN we would side with Iran as an oppressed country, but at the same time we would call for the working class of Iran to take the leadership of the anti-imperialist struggle and expropriate all imperialist property including that of China. The same in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine etc. Wars in any of these states are directly connected to the major inter-imperialist front that runs through Afghanistan and Pakistan between the US and its allies and China allied with Russia.
It is the same in Latin America and Africa. In a US proxy war betwen Colombia and Venezuela we would be for the defence of Venezuela. We do not oppose the use of Chinese or Russian arms to defend Venezuela. However, we also say that the only reason that China and Russia sold arms to Venezuela was to establish client states in order to invest capital and super-exploit Venezuelan labor and raw materials. The defence of Venezuela from the US cannot put any faith in the national bourgeoisie nor China or Russia as allies in this struggle. In Africa the US that is mobilising its forces to push its client states Rwanda and Uganda to gain control of oil and other minerals in the DRC, the Sudan and Somalia.
Here as in Korea, China is unlikely to get directly involved right now. Nevertheless in opposing US proxy wars in its client states we would also oppose China directly intervening to use any of these states as proxies. For example if China was to get involved militarily as Russia did in Abkazia and South Ossetia in the proxy war with Georgia backed by the US, we would be for the defeat of both imperialist powers. In all cases we call on the working class to take the lead in the anti-imperialist struggle and as well as defeat the imperialist military interventions and occupations to expropriate all imperialist property and that of their national capitalist junior partners.
Imperialism's death knell
The current global crisis is a crisis of imperialism approaching its death knell. The US and its EU allies are on the decline. They have accumulated huge stockpiles of worthless fictitious capital that cannot be invested productively. The recession that began in 2007 was the start of the destruction of this worthless fictitious capital. Capitalism survived this recession only by the dynmmic productive power of Asia led by China that pulled Latin America and Australia behind it. And by the massive bailouts to finance capital paid for by the future surplus value of the world's workers. The next phase of the crisis which is to force workers to reduce their wages and welfare to slave standards will be one of severe deflation as more mountains of worthless capital are destroyed.
The worlds' workers will not pay for the next instalment of bailouts. The resistance shown by the Greek workers, the Spanish workers and the peasants and workers of Kyrkyrzstan shows that workers are willing to fight. They are held back only by the illusions that the reformist left continues to keep alive in the labor movement. But the crisis leaves the dying imperialisms of the US and EU forced to fight the only viable imperialism China to yet again repartition the world by means of war and massive environmental destruction. In these wars workers must resist all the siren songs of the reformist left to back China as the salvation of defunct capitalism and imperialism.
The solution to the crisis of capitalist imperialism is not to kowtow to China but to unite all workers with Chinese workers to overthrow all our national ruling classes and to open the road to world socialism.
Workers turn your guns on your own imperialist ruling class!
For a new world party of socialism!