During 2022, it became clear, that the political head of imperialism – the USA – has switched strategy from neoliberal globalization to geopolitical territorial rivalry. Economic competition is changed to economic warfare using boycotts, blockades, and economic punishment packets. The financial, trade, and political transnational institutions built under neoliberalism are eroding instead we see the strengthening of old and the construction of new military alliances. We have entered a new Cold War with a new round of arms race. This is not a shift the USA has made out of strength; it is a sign of its economic and political crises. US hegemony is in decline, it can no longer compete economically with China. The Biden administration has cast this conflict as a confrontation between liberalism and authoritarianism. I would say it is between US world dominance and a multipolar world-system. The “International community” consisting of the old colonial powers stands behind NATO in its confrontation with Russia. In the emergency session to vote on a resolution on Russia’s “Aggression Against Ukraine” in March 2022, 141 nations voted in support, thirty-five abstained and five voted against. The forty countries that abstained or voted against the resolution—including India and China—collectively make up the majority of the world’s population, The United States has threatened sanctions against India, China, and other states that continue to do business with Russia,
The US/NATO proxy war in Ukraine against Russia is also an attempt to destabilize and encircle China. However, this effort is tearing apart the former neoliberal world market, which is necessary for the continued expanded accumulation of transnational capital. The neoliberal system of globalization of production and consumption is falling apart. US policy shatters the world market, on which it has built its power and wealth since the end of the Second World War. We already see the consequence in the form of an energy crisis and stagflation in the economy.
A new principal contradiction in the world-system is emerging between forces that want to uphold US hegemony on one side and forces which seek a new multipolar world order, headed by China.
Transnational companies are forced, by the changing winds in the world-system, to join with nationalist and conservative political forces in the North. The US, the EU, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia, is for the time being united in the effort to uphold US hegemony. They constitute one aspect of this new principal contradiction.
The other aspect is headed by China, the upcoming economic and political world power, and its ambition to build “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and a multipolar world system. In this effort, China is allied with a conglomerate of states united in the ambition to change the North-South structure, which has dominated the world-system for the last two centuries, and expand South-South and East-West relations.
The US political elites have for some time identified China as its main rival. As China turned from a pool of low-wage workers for US capital to a competitor on the world market, the Obama administration began its policy of “Asia-Pacific Rebalance”. The Trump administration launched a trade war, technology sanctions, and a series of geopolitical political and military maneuvers putting pressure on China. Joe Biden has followed that track.
The US strategic competition with China is full scale: Technology, trade, finance, currency, military superiority and geopolitics, international institutions, and ideology. The USA is increasingly adopting a Cold War rhetoric, describing its engagement with China as rivalry between two opposite ideologies and even civilizations. At the same time, the USA put pressure on countries, enterprises, and international institutions to take its side against China. In the past fifteen years, European countries have integrated more and more with the Russian energy markets and expanded their trade with China. The piped natural gas from Russia through Nord Stream 2 was cheaper and less dangerous than liquefied natural gas from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mexico. Several European countries joined the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative”, which increased mutual investments and trade between Europe and China. All this is to the frustration of the US, which has tried to prevent or delay that process. The war in Ukraine was an opportunity for the US to discipline Europa back into the fold.
The changing international climate is a huge problem for the EU. The EU’s foreign-policy chief High Representative Josep Borrell acknowledged these facts in a speech in October 2022:
“Our prosperity has been based on cheap energy coming from Russia. Russian gas – cheap and supposedly affordable, secure, and stable. It has been proved not [to be] the case. And the access to the big China market, for exports and imports, for technological transfers, for investments, for having cheap goods. I think that the Chinese workers with their low salaries have done much better and much more to contain inflation than all the Central Banks together…..You – the United States – take care of our security. You – China and Russia – provided the basis of our prosperity. This is a world that is no longer there…. There is the US-China competition. This is the most important “structuring force”. The world is being structured around this competition – like it or not. The second characteristic is a competitive world where everything is being weaponised. Everything is a weapon: energy, investments, information, migration flows, data, etc. There is a global fight about access to some strategic domains: cyber, maritime, or outer space.”
To strengthen the NATO alliance under US command. The NATO member states, soon including Finland and Sweden, will expand their ‘high readiness forces’ from 40,000 troops to 300,000 ready to be deployed on the alliance’s eastern flank – the Russian border
All this is not just about Ukraine and Russia, but also about preventing Eurasian integration with China. This development has been costly for the EU. Not only are they forced to increase their military budgets by hundreds of billions. The European economies will suffer. US policy is dragging Europe down. A price Europe seems to be willing to pay for the unity of the imperialist center and the hope that the US can protect their “Imperial mode of living”.
Looking at my part of the world – the Scandinavian countries – the picture is the same. In June 2022, the Norwegian parliament voted to adopt a new defense agreement giving the USA unconditional right to access and use four areas in Northern Norway, among them, are Ramsund Naval Base and Evenes Air Base. The Danish government also plans to give the US base facilities in Denmark. Denmark has troops stationed in the Baltic states, near the Russian border, and in Poland. Denmark will invest billions in new arms in the coming years on top of the 27 new F-35 just bought from the US. Denmark will also increase its military focus on Greenland with drones to improve surveillance in the Arctic and a major modernization of aerial surveillance with new radar equipment in Greenland and on the Faroe Islands.
Centuries of Danish colonialism in Greenland, are being supplemented by US neo-colonialism. In the coming years, the US will invest nearly 4 billion to upgrade their Thule base in North Western Greenland. With an expansion of runways and facilities, Thule will once again become a strategically important base for the US’s long-range bomber and fighter squadrons. In addition, the USA’s only military deep-water port in the Arctic is located near the Thule base. Other Greenlandic harbors will also be upgraded to service increased US naval traffic.
Sweden’s desire for NATO membership came rather suddenly. As recently as March 8, 2022, Social Democratic Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, declared that “NATO membership was not relevant”. Just two months later, on May 18, Sweden submitted its applications. The argument for Swedish membership of NATO is the threat of “Russian expansionism”, however, there has never been a threat of a Russian invasion of Sweden or Norway and Denmark for that matter. Even when the “Cold War” was at its coldest, Sweden was neutral. Why then become a member of NATO now? The answer lies in the fact that US global hegemony is threatened; this is what ties the NATO countries together, now including Sweden and Finland.
In Denmark Norway and Sweden, there is huge support for NATO according to opinion polls. There have been only a few hundred participants in the anti-war demonstrations, which have been both against Russia and NATO, while thousands have demonstrated against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
At the election for parliament in Denmark in October 2022, I was looking for a party that was opposed to NATO, but such a party does not exist longer in the Danish parliament. “Enhedslisten” (Unity-List) consisting of former communist and New left groups which is the most far-left party in the parliament decided at its congress in May 2022 that NATO membership is the best for Denmark as the situation. As they state on their website:
“Enhedslisten believes that, in the long term, NATO must be replaced by a more inclusive security cooperation, but our vision for a new security architecture in Europe and globally must be seen as a long-term vision and process that requires viable alternatives.”
The problem with such a position on NATO is that it identifies with the interests of the Danish state. Denmark or Sweden are presented as “little innocent white lambs”, sandwiched between Russian and US imperialism. In that situation, the “gut feeling” of the majority of the population and hence the majority in the “Enhedslisten” is that “our” – read the capitalist welfare state – “our way of life” is best protected by NATO. They think as loyal citizens of “our common state” and not in a global class perspective. Marx criticized this kind of nationalism in his critique of the German Social Democracy’s “Gotha Program” from 1875. Lenin fought against this “social-imperialist” line in the Second International in the years leading up to the First World War.
The Scandinavian countries are not “little white lambs”, they are part of the problem – part of imperialism. The rise and development of the Scandinavian welfare states can only be understood from a historical and global perspective. Scandinavia was an active part of European colonialism from the 16th century and onwards. They transported and sold slaves. Denmark had colonies in the Caribbean. Millions of Scandinavians became settlers, in the US, Canada, and Australia. Their industrial breakthrough in the late 19th century is connected with the development of British and German imperialism. Colonialism still matters. We cannot say: that it is not our responsibility what previous generations have done. Colonialism created the structures and institutions that still form the basis for the division of the world into poor and rich countries – for imperialism’s exploitation of low-wage labor in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Colonialism created racism and a European sense of superiority, which persist. As long as our lifestyle is based on imperialism and racism, so long will colonialism is our responsibility. Historically and currently – economically and politically, the Scandinavian countries are part of imperialism. With the acceptance of NATO, under the leadership of the United States, one buys the whole package. As a member of NATO, one becomes part of US global politics, which seeks to maintain hegemony with military dominance.
The current situation resembles the process leading up to the First World War when Europe’s socialists abandoned internationalism and the class standpoint and instead chose to support their capitalist nation-state in its rivalry with other states. In the imperialist part of the world, you have to be a “traitor” to the country to be a socialist.
It is not just a simple inter-imperialist power struggle between US and China for world hegemony. It is a conflict on how to organize the world-system and visions of the future. However, the hostile international relations created by the US strategy will hamper efforts to diminish the ecological and climate problems, and its policy is disrupting investment and trade worldwide, creating economic crises not just for 2023.
For the time being the US is still the dominant and offensive aspect, using its military and cultural power. However, the erosion of the neoliberal world market under US control and the emergence of a part of the world system with alternative political and financial institutions and without the dollar as the trade currency may change the balance in the contradiction.
The bonds between the countries of the global South are getting stronger. China’s Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modi, are worlds apart in their political projects, but they are both rejecting the “Cold War mentality” and US hegemony. So are most African and South American states.
A multipolar world system, alternative economic institutions, and the existence of a major technologically developed state – China – will provide space for social movements and states in the global South, to move in the direction of socialism. In the coming decades, there is a good chance we will see the development of a different kind of socialism, incorporating the historical and cultural background of each nation: Indian socialism, South African socialism, Arabic socialism, Latin American socialism, and so on. These movements and states will cooperate, tipping the balance in the world system from capitalism to socialism.
The fragmentation of the dominant capitalist world market, and the development of socialism in the South, means a decline in the imperialist value transfer, which has sustained the imperial mode of living in the global North. The capacity to arrest the flows of imperial extraction the peoples of the global South are the primary agent of progressive change in the world-system.
Such change will deepen the economic and political crises in the Global North. It might lead to fascism, in the first instance. When the middle class comes under pressure, it often moves to the right. It might lead to wars against emerging socialism in the South, trying to reconstruct imperialist dominations. Our task, then, is to stand firm on socialist anti-imperialism as a category of thought, and strategy working with the forces of revolutionary change rather than against it.
- Borrell, Josep (2022) Speech at EU Ambassadors Annual Conference 2022, 10.10.2022, in Brussels Online:https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/eu-ambassadors-annual-conference-2022-opening-speech-high-representative-josep-borrell_en