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(en) Anarkismo.net: Imperialism, China and Russia by Pier Francesco Zarcone

Date Sun, 07 Sep 2008 18:30:27 +0300

An inter-imperialist clash is taking place in the Caucasus in which the Georgian
dwarf is acting on behalf of the United States. The perfectly predictable and
immediate Russian response - awarding Putin the first round - has only
highlighted what an imbecile Georgia's president is. As a good nationalist, he
(once again) made the choice in favour of an armed diversion, counting on US
assistance which, though, was never going to be in the form of military
intervention, when he should instead have been thinking about his country's
disastrous state. By way of aside, it was another fine example of how dangerous
it can be to be an ally of Washington.

Having said that, let's have a look at the question of imperialism in the age of
globalization. As we know well, imperialism first began to be talked around the
end of the 19th century and early 20th, during a particular phase of development
of the capitalist system. The best-known study at the time, published in 1902,
was by John Hobson. But the first serious economic study of the question goes
back to Charles A. Conant in 1898 and his "Economic Basis of Imperialism",
published in the North American Review. "Classical" imperialism is seen as a
sort of historical expansionism, driven both by an excess of capitalist
accumulation and thus needing to be "exported" (and despite low consumption
levels in the imperialist countries' internal markets) and by the need to
acquire new sources of cheap raw materials and new markets. Imperialism has
therefore generally been defined as the imposition by a single State of its
economic and political dominance over foreign territories and/or States, to the
benefit of the imperialist's national capital. This phenomenon may also make use
of colonialism in the strict sense, that is to say the formal, direct
appropriation of territories (and populations) in order to exploit them;
nonetheless, it is not the same thing as colonialism as such.

Imperialism, then, is a form of monopolistic appropriation or control of raw
materials, energy sources and the export of capital; on the ideological front it
has to some extent become mixed up with the European nationalism that flowered
in the 19th century with its sentiments (at times masked by humanitarianism) of
racial superiority - something that was by no means introduced by German Nazism
(how many recall, for example, Winston Churchill's revolting racism?).

The interpretation of the imperialist phenomenon provided by Lenin is now a
classic one. It is an interpretation that has gone to the economic roots,
establishing the high level of development in the concentration of production
and capital which gives rise to monopolies; the formation (through the fusion of
industrial capital and bank capital) of a strong financial capital and,
therefore, a financial oligarchy; the growing importance (not just qualitative)
of the export of capital in relationship with the export of goods; the division
of world markets between the great powers. Looking at this analysis, and thus
sharing the point of view of economic phenomenology, today's globalization may
be considered to be a further derivation, in today's age of high information
technology, of the situation as studied by Lenin.

It has been said in modern times that we have passed into a neo-imperialist
phase characterized by a merely informal (moral and media) form of domination,
though not totally without its military protection. Basically, globalization was
felt to be an essential need. What strikes ones immediately about this
phenomenon is the role (and the huge power) of the multinationals, the larges
fluxes in the speculative movement of capital, the crushing quantitative
predominance of the movement of capital with respect to the movement of goods,
and the enormous circulation of data and information. Some people, however, have
asked themselves if all this really does form the essential characteristic of
the phenomenon. In other words, if we should not take into consideration aspects
that are inherent to the productive dimension, in the sense that turning to the
sphere of production relationships involves consideration of the role of capital
in the current state of the levels of "valueization", in relationship with the
spheres of production and circulation. Given that unequal exchange systems
persist, the greater productive capacity of dominant countries results in the
enjoyment of lower working hours - as far as production is concerned - and in
the acquisiton of monetary value that is much higher - as far as circulation is
concerned. Basically, seen in this way, the real, basic (one could say
structural) objective could be the maintenance of the unequal exchange system of
value-labour, to which the need to appropriate this or that raw material would
be instrumental (and no longer primary), as was the case in early 20th-century
imperialism. The physiological persistence and increase in international tension
would correspond to the need (of those involved) to defend and improve ones
position in the planetary economic hierarchy, so as to make sure one's position
in the unequal system of exchange prevails. This means that episodes of war are
not merely an expression of a desire for domination (that is to say they are not
only "subjective" phenomena).

Today, however, in an age characterized by the return of imperialism even in
terms of apparently motiveless wars and brutal military occupations, and of
course by the enormous importance of the capitalist powers' oil needs (and
remembering that this raw material which provides well over 40% of the world's
energy consumption [1] is not the unlimited resource it was once considered), it
no longer seems possible to share the opinion that the the essential objective
is simply to maintain the unequal exchange system of value-labour. As far as I
can see, our perspective must be overturned: it is energy resources that now
have a vital, primary character. Indeed, we should be asking ourselves if the
unequal exchange is nothing more than a means to enable domination, not the
object of domination itself.

US imperialism outside the American continent has developed over various phases.
After World War II it was associated with the intention of undermining the
surviving European colonial system in order to create a series of client States
for Washington, formally independent. This phase has generally been defined as a
neo-colonialist phase, with local governments at the service of US
multinationals and US political and military interests. An area of dominion was
formed whose basis was provided thanks to military intervention, intelligence
operations and above all the work of financial insitutions, both international
(eg. the IMF) and US - not to mention the armed forces of the client States.
With the collapse of the USSR's satellite system followed by the USSR itself,
the possibility was created for the United States to greatly extend its position
of world dominion, thanks also to the spread of the neo-liberal ideology of
globalization and the feeling of total impunity which took the place of fear of
the enemy behind the Iron Curtain. Since the rise to power of George W. Bush,
the oil lobby has becoming a determinant of imperialist policies (though still
as part of a military-industrial complex), and CLinton's conservative line gave
way to the ultra-right line of the current US presidency, which supports
permanent war and military occupations, as well as theorizing the right of the
United States not to feel bound by any international treaty if it is not in its
national interests to do so.

The United States' enemies today - apart from Islamic fundamentalism, which the
US itself fostered through its infancy - are China and Russia, irrespective of
the formal nature of diplomatic relatrions, be they friendly or less so. China,
still the world's most heavily-populated country, today seems to be the only
State that is capable of rivalling the USA in about fifteen or twenty years'
time. The enormous financial liquidity is enjoys allows China to act as an
investor on a world-wide scale, and to support industrial projects from South
Africa to Venezuela, Sudan to Indochina, creating agreements to manage corridors
of raw materials from the Caspian to its industrial areas in the South-East,
areas where it it one of the big competitors along with Russia, the USA and
local powers such as Iran and India, acting as the Shanghai Pact's anti-Islamic
gendarme. China's gigantic financial surplus is also the fruit of decades of
accumulation resulting from the second path of "parallel development" (profits
from agriculture invested in industrialization) that was followed by China from
the late 1960s to the early '70s, which consisted in the exploitation of Chinese
workers and the determination, appropriation and management of surpluses by the
Chinese State, which did not (and still does not) disdain from using open

In reality, there never was a transition to communism in China, no
techno-bureaucracy ever took power; what we have seen over the past 60 years is
State capitalist management by a rigid beurocratic centralism that is today
carrying out a transition to capitalism in its most savage form, but without
troubling itself with going through the phase of Western-style political
democracy. We should bear in mind that China's "economic miracle", apart from
being based on the fierce exploitation of the working class and peasants, has
made great use of a policy of exports directed at a world economy which is
already greatly indebted, and it continues to aim well beyond its boundaries.

China's real rate of development is around 10% per annum (if not more): back in
1998 it already produced 11.5% of the world's GNP and it is calculated that by
2015, its internal market will have reached enormous levels. Nevertheless, China
is largely dependant on oil supplies, due to its own low production. Tt is
believed that by 2015 it will need to import at least 4 million barrels a day,
half the current output of Saudi Arabia. The United States sees China's policies
as a seriously disturbing factor on the strategic, economic and political scene
in Africa, Asia and Latin America, beginning locally to take control of natural
resources. China tends to treat far-Eastern seas as the Romans did their "Mare
Nostrum", the Mediterranean, containing Japan and keeping an eye on the US
military presence. Myanmar is in its orbit and it is seeking to extend its
influence towards the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. In
Asia, China - together with Russia - has also recently extended its influence to
the ex-Soviet republics where US influence has weakened, such as Uzbekistan.
There are rumours of the Taleban being supplied by the Chinese as a sort of
anti-US measure, but at the current state of affairs it is impossible to say more.

In southern China, 1,850 km of roads are being built and the natural defensive
barriers of the Himalayam foothills are being strengthened. "Road No.3" which
directly links the CHinese city of Kunming with Bangkok also crosses the
scarsely-populated regions of northern Vietnam and Laos, giving the idea of a
precise geo-strategic Chinese expansion. China provides technical and military
aid to Pakistan, including nuclear technology. And there is no shortage of
newagency sources claiming that the Chinese secret services are not unaware of
the transfer of nuclear technology from Pakistan to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
Moreover, the construction of a large port complex at the Gwadar naval base on
the Arabian Sea gives China strategic access to the Persian Gulf and an outpost
on the Indian Ocean. Finally, Tibet is being subjected to a policy of Chinese

It is well known that there has been an increase in political and economic ties
between Beijing and the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, as well as those
countries who have been on the US blacklist for some time, like Iran, Sudan and
Venezuela. Sudan and Iran are among China's top ten oil suppliers, but so too
are Angola, Congo and Equatorial Guinea. China has also started to export
capital, irking Washington into forming anti-China alliances. Above in Africa,
at present, this is an important factor, given that trade between China and
Africa had already reached something like $40 billion in 2005, an increase of
35% compared to the previous year. African oil reserves have turned out to be
extremely interesting, so much so that during the '90s, China invested $8
billion in Sudan and $9 billion in Nigeria in 2005, and also provided Angola
with a $2.5 billion loan (at very attractive rates) in 2004 with which to
rebuild the country, shattered after 27 years of civil war. This was an
initiative with serious political effects, as it allowed the Angolan government
to reject an offer from the IMF, with its consequent, devastating, neo-liberal

Neither should we ignore the fact that the US trade deficit with China - $202
billion in 2005 - has certainly not been getting smaller. China has become a
sort of banker to the United States as it continues to buy up US Treasury Bonds
and possesses huge currency reserves in dollars (these currency reserves and
Treasury Bonds were calculated in 2004 as amounting to $600 billion). It is thus
evident that, while on the one hand China is helping to support the dollar by
affecting interest rates, on the other hand it is equally in a position to
condition. And this is an extremely dangerous situation, because if one day the
financial and economic difficulties of the United States worsen to the point
that it can no longer face up to its various foreign debts, who will guarantee
that US leaders do not resort to wiping their slate clean by means of a nice
war? It would be a classic. At the moment, however, the United States is being
forced to maintain an "elastic" attitude towards Beijing, as it needs China to
go on financing its debt and buying its Treasury Bonds.

Some commentators are convinced that, if things continue along these lines, then
China will be the world leader in trade by 2020. We shall see. The possibility
of China becoming a reasonable autonomous economic giant can be seen in the
non-corrispondence between levels of foreign capital investment in China and the
volume of Western sales on Chinese markets. The marked imbalance between Chinese
exports and imports, which lies at the root of the economic boom in the old
"Middle Empire", still results in the West still dreaming about making China a
huge market for "first world" produce. As the Indian Nobel prizewinning
economist Amartya Sen underlined, the Maoist age bequeathed China a reasonably
efficient mass health service, but also and above all a state education system
going from primary schools to university which has been free for all from the
1980s; thus, the country also enjoys the precious resource of a mass of
good-quality university graduates, amongst whom numerous engineers with a
variety of specializations, to the extant that for some time now, American
industry has realized that China is able to produce excellent electrical
components at much lower prices. The increase in Chinese consumption has
undoubtedly contributed to the increase in oil prices, causing a crisis for US
consumers, who are starting to realize how uneconomical their gas-guzzlers have
become. But the best has yet to come, given that we are talking about a country
of 1.3 billion inhabitants, compared with the measly 300 million in the United

On a military level, too, China is no joke. China's military spending is second
only to the US and Pentagon experts - who are studying the possible scenarios of
a future war with China - believe that this country has the best military
potential in order to compete with the USA, and the destructive military
technology that would enable it to counterbalance the United States' traditional
advantage. It is no accident that (according to news published at the time of
the recent Olympics) that most Chinese missiles are aimed at the United States.

Then there is post-Yeltsin Russia, which Putin has more or less put back on its
feet and returned it to the level of a great power, if only to a more local
level. For over five years now, the Russian economy has been growing rapidly (at
least 7% a year), thanks in part to the quick-fire increases in energy prices.
Two thirds of income, and about half of the Russian balance, derive from the
sales of oil and gas, and the growth from this has allowed Russia to accumulate
hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars in gold and foreign currency, to
pay off slices of its foreign debt to the International Monetary Fund, and to
carry out an impressive programme of macroeconomic and financial stabilization.
However, Russia cannot describe itself as a healthy country, economically
speaking, given that its pro-capita income is still very low, around 35% of the
EU and 25% of the USA. In wider terms, the Russian global economy is dangerously
fragile due to its great dependency on trade in oil and gas, to which must be
added its low level of economic diversification in recent years and the terrible
state of its manufacturing industry, which is at best weak and in certain
sectors actually declining further. It must be said, however, that any future
fall in energy prices could in theory be compensated for by using the huge
resources it has accumulated thus far and by means of public spending increases,
in particular investments. There is of course also the unknown factor of inflation.

Of course, it is US obtuseness that has laid the premise for such an agreement,
with Russia no longer the Cinderella it once was. In other words, it is well
known that the war in Iraq caused an increase in the price of crude oil even
excluding the increase in Chinese consumption; and its effects could not exclude
the hydrocarbons sector, with the consequence that in the end the rise was so
great that even the US economy could not handle it, all to the advantage of
Russia and Gazprom. As we have said, this situation has allowed Russia to make
huge cuts in its foreign debt, from 80% of GDP to around 25-20%; it is a
situation that has permitted an upturn in the Russian economy to some extent.

Russia is not only carrying on a recomposition of its military strength, it is
also, most importantly, seeking an economic reconstruction of what remains of
the Commonwealth of Independent States. With Ukraine's Naftogaz now out of the
running, wallowing in debt, Russia can get on with its plans to build (at a cost
of €5 billion) a gas pipeline as far as the Baltic Sea to supply Germany and the
UK, cutting out both Turkey and Poland and Ukraine, in such a way as to bring
Central Asian gas reserves under its control. Because of the EU's energy
dependency on Russia, we cannot exclude the possibility that the rouble will
strengthen against the euro; in any event, Russia new currency reserves will
allow Moscow to taken on a growing role and hegemony in the Euro-Asiatic states
of the ex-USSR; they have also permitted Russia to improve its economic
relations with India (to whom it has become the biggest arms supplier) and Japan.

Though China is currently ahead of Russia as far as exports are concerned - in
particular in telecommunications, large infrastructure and public works - Russia
is making huge progress in the IT sector, where it has seen a growth of at least
50%. It is calculated that by 2010 Russia will be in a position to earn around
$15 billion in the export of information technology, thereby becoming the world
leader in this sector; 10 years before that, it was earning no more than $200
million. Not many people know today about one third of all Microsoft software is
produced by Russian workers (both at home and abroad) and that Russia is
currently the third biggest exporter in this sector, after China and India.

Let us now examine the events in Georgi and Ossetia. I do not think there can be
any doubt that they are part of an inter-imperialist clash between Russia and
the United States, even though certain aspects appear to indicate the contrary.
After the disastrous period that followed the implosion of the Soviet Union,
Russia never realy completed its internal restructuring, and it does not seem to
be in a position to engage in an imperialist competition with the United States,
particularly outside its own geographic area. Its new energy for international
economic and political relations is part of a phase of exansion, that much is
true; but as things stand at present, it is more defensive than offensive. It is
defensive with regard to the perfectly obvious encirclement manoeuvre by the
United States, which has already installed itself militarily in Kirghizstan and
Uzbekistan: in other words in the same Central Asia where, up to 2002, Russia
was in a position of check. The checkmate, however, never materialized. The
Baltic states, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine currently have pro-US
governments; there is the question of US missile installations in Poland; there
is also strong pressure for Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO. Indeed, there is
no shortage of justifications for Russia's reaction to the Georgian attack on
separatist Ossetia, a country which the West denies the right of political
self-determination that it was so happy to impose on behalf of Kosovo against
Serbia with massive bombardments (the first against a European State since World
War II). It is of course true that Russia's stout defence of Ossetian
self-determination is seasoned with a good dose of hypocrisy, since it denies
Chechnya the same thing it demands for Ossetia. But that's the way it is.
Realpolitik is one thing, consistency is quite another. If anything, it is sad
to see the populations involved in these recurring nationalist disputes (and the
underlying economic interests which are entirely unconnected) not developing any
sort of movement in demand of their real social interests.

But for Russia there is one prime area of interest that is susceptible to
imperialist development: the energy question. Apart from its connection with
Russian defence needs, the Ossetia-Georgia problem is directly linked to the BTC
oil pipeline that is being built (from Baku in Azerbaijan to Cehyan in Turkey,
via Tbilisi in Georgia), which runs alongside the border of the Russian
Federation. Azerbaijan and Georgia are effectively US protectorates, linked by
military cooperation to Israel, which in turn has an interest in the Azeri
oilfields that provide about 20% of its oil needs. Russia is therefore part of
the world energy competition, independently of the fact that it does not need to
import oil or natural gas. Nonetheless, it does need to control the transport of
energy, particularly towards Europe. It is by no means absurd to think that a
strengthening of this control can strengthen Russia position and allow Moscow to
restructure itself as a great power, to the detriment of US influence in the
region. We are in a phase when the world's reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium
and (for industrial needs) copper and cobalt are diminishing, and control over
them has become vital for the large economies.

There is no doubt that if the United States were able to get its hands on
Iranian oil too (as well as Iraqi oil; let us not forget that Iraq has the
second-largest proven oil reserves in the world) and reduce the
Asiatic-Caucasian States, home to the new oil pipelines, to the rank of docile
US vassals, then it everything would be in place for the Yankee establishment's
dream come true of making the 21st century a more American century than previous
one. As far as today's global situation is concerned, the name of the next
inhabitant of the White House is not particularly important because, while it is
true that this objective is a driving force behind the current administration,
linked as it is to the Texan oil lobby, it is equally true that every President
in the near future will have to deal with what is a specific economic and
strategic need for the USA (a country, and an economy, which is today going
through a serious crisis, with a frightening level of foreign debt, much of
which owes to China). If the project were realized, the resulting choking of
China and Russia would have obvious consequences. The great danger of such a
situation does not only depend on US military strength but also on the fact that
the absolute prevalence of specific US macroeconomic and military interests and
its blindness towards any limitations are actually official doctrine in
Washington. A sort of globalized Monroe Doctrine which could even lead to the
local use of nuclear weapons.

Today, the United States not only has to deal with foreign affairs, it must also
see to its own economic system, which makes one think (and hope) that the
historical constant of decline following a phase of domination is true for the
US, too. Things are going very badly for the US economy and people. The reign of
easy living that followed World War II is seriously under threat. The US
contribution to the world's production is at around 23%; the USA is the country
with the biggest foreign debt and financial fluxes from Europe, Japan and China
are vital in financing America's deficit. US economic growth is based on a
behavioural pattern of American families which reminds one of the fable of "The
Cricket and the Ant", that is to say, consumption way above production levels,
resulting in an average indebtedness of US citizens of over 110% of their annual
income, which entails increases in the percentage level for the interest on this
debt as part of the average spending. The series of exploding financial
speculation bubbles has certainly not eased matters and recession is at the
door. The United States is an economic and financial power in serious crisis and
its leaders know only too well that time is against them. This only increases
the risk of adventurist policies that would have tragic consequences.

Pier Francesco Zarcone

22 August 2008

1. The United States supplies around one third of the world's oil production,
but for some time now has been an importer - and thus dependent.
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