Is it the 1930s all over again? By William Bowles

By William Bowles
featured writer
Dandelion Salad

Sept 6, 2008

The parallels with the situation in Europe prior to the outbreak of WWII surely cannot be avoided, for not only do we have an economic crisis that closely resembles the ‘29 Crash in its magnitude, the US-engineered invasion of South Ossetia could very well be a prelude to more dangerous provocations on the part of the US, in much the same way that German support for the fascist coup in Spain served as a testing ground not only for Hitler’s military machine but also to sew chaos and to test the reactions of two of the leading imperialist powers of the time, Britain and France. For what they all shared was a hatred of Bolshevism and ultimately, that’s what WWII was really all about, the destruction of the Soviet Union.

So is history repeating itself, perhaps not as farce but as an even greater tragedy?

There are of course fundamental differences not only within Europe but in the world at large. Europe is no longer the seat of imperialist expansion, merely an adjunct to the US and a divided one at that. Furthermore, attacking a nuclear-tipped Russia directly is obviously not an option, but it has to be stated that as with all previous major crises of capital, war is the only ‘solution’ to over-accumulation/under-consumption.

The situation however, is extremely complex, the leading imperialist power, the US is now on the decline whereas in the 1930s it was in the ascendency and indeed directly benefitted in every way from WWII, for its major rivals in Western Europe were not only decimated but also bankrupt and in debt to the US at the close of the conflict in 1945 (signaled by the Bretton-Woods Agreement, See eg, Bretton Woods: Birth and Breakdown for background on the significance of the agreement, especially in defining US control of the world’s trade and financial network and of course, oil).

But in 1972, Nixon effectively dumped the Bretton-Woods Agreement and set in motion a chain of events which are now entering what might well be the final death throws of US imperialism, unless it can, to put it bluntly, destroy its competitors and reestablish its pre-eminence as the world’s number one power. But unfortunately the US is no longer a major manufacturing power, it is effectively an economy in decline.

But the inter-dependency made possible by globalization has tied the major capitalist powers together, especially to that of Russia and China upon whom the Western powers (the G-7) depend for energy and manufacturing respectively.

Thus a major conflagration on par with WWII is simply not an option but dozens of ‘small wars’ could achieve comparable results, especially with the development and deployment of so-called theatre nuclear weapons.

What is now being called Chaos as an instrument of US foreign policy is in fact a policy of destabilization on a global scale made possible essentially by two elements:

1. Overwhelming US military power
2. The role of the dollar as the fiat currency for the purchase of oil through which the rest of the planet bankrolls a bankrupt US economy (See ‘Breaking free from dollar hegemony’ By Henry C K Liu)

Significantly however, the other aspect that differs from the 1930s is that there is no real opposition to imperialism, merely competitors for a shrinking global market for goods, all of which to a lesser or greater degree are tied to the US’s coattails, not only because they possess vast supplies of the dollar but also because they do not offer a real alternative to the insanity of capitalism.

The Russians for example must be more than little bemused at the turn of events signaled by Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia as the utterences by both Medvedev and Putin illustrate,

“Medvedev: I would not call this a full-scale crisis of the likes of what existed during the Soviet period, but there is tension today. We certainly did not want this tension. It is the result of the not entirely reasonable policy the United States has pursued in Georgia. At some point they gave the Georgian leader the impression that he could do as he pleased with impunity. He seemed to think he’d received carte-blanche to take any action he wished, and we can all see now where this has led. I think there is a certain amount of frustration now in the United States at the failure of this virtual project, ‘Free Georgia’. The leader has bankrupted himself, the regime is on the brink of crisis, and the situation is tense. The sooner our American partners sort out this issue the better it will be for Russian-American relations. We are ready to restore the best possible relations and develop our ties in full with the United States.” — ‘Interview with Russian President Medvedev On Euronews

One has to read between the lines in order to understand Russian frustration with the US as the phrase “The sooner our American partners sort out this issue the better it will be for Russian-American relations. We are ready to restore the best possible relations and develop our ties in full with the United States” indicates. Is this the result of naiviety on the part of the Russian ruling elite? Possibly, but it illustrates the simple fact that the Russians were sold a lemon when the ruling elite dissolved the Soviet Union and reestablished a capitalist economy.

Russia and China, having embarked on the capitalist road are now caught up in the crisis of capital along with every other country, something that didn’t happen to either economies when both were, let’s say non-capitalist and not integrated into the global capitalist economy.

Neither are both countries embarked on a policy of imperialist expansion, the ruling elites are desperately trying to survive in a world dominated by US imperialism and to a degree trying to satisfy the increasing demands of their domestic populations or at some point face their own extinction.

A comparable dilemma also exists within the European Community,

“The very fact that Americans didn’t find anything else to support their failed ally – Mr. Saakashvili – other than sending Mr. Cheney to the region, who is incredibly unpopular in the world, who is associated with the war in Iraq, with all these neo-conservative, black-and-white visions of the world, who was accused of corruption – remember the Halliburton affair in Iraq. And if they wanted, if the Bush administration really wanted to consolidate the international community behind the United States in criticising Russia, I think they should find somebody else and not send Mr. Cheney” — French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, ‘EU wants truth about war in South Ossetia’, Russia Today, 6 September, 2008.

Kouchner continued,

“We have to be together. The U.S. have their own views, but we are living close to Russia. We need to develop our own policy, a neighbouring policy. We have to talk about our views of being close to Russia, a great country, a partner”

Essentially therefore, what we have is a world which on the one hand is dominated by overwhelming US military power and on the other, a raft of competing capitalist powers, all dependent on each other as none possess the means (or even the desire) to achieve hegemony on their own.

The post-war ‘united front’ between erstwhile competing capitalisms best exemplified by NATO only made sense when the Soviet Union existed, but once the Soviet Union was no more, it was ‘each man for himself and the devil take the hindmost’.

The US of course recognized this dilemma ergo, ‘the war on terror’ as a replacement for the ‘Red Menace’, a vehicle for theoretically uniting competing capitalist powers but so far it has failed dismally to live up to its expectations, rather it has had the completely opposite effect, for unlike the period following WWII, the post-Soviet world is one of fragmentation, even the modern nation-state is under threat.

“The modern state system derives its existence to the treaty of Westphalia, 1648, which recognised the sovereignty of nation states. The treaty which encompasses the two peace treaties of Osnabruck and Munster, signed on 15 May and 24 October of 1648 respectively, ended both the Thirty Years’ War in Germany and the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and the Netherlands. It initiated a new order in Europe based on the concept of national sovereignty. Earlier, it was not the state per se in the sense of its modern usage, but it was the empires and kingdoms, whether Greek, Roman, Mongol, Ottoman, Persian, Russian, etc. that were reigning over the world space. The medieval era was particularly called [the] dark phase as it witnessed [the] tussle between temporal and papal authorities at its height. The Westphalia treaty among then major powers led [to] the emergence of the current state system.” — ‘Future of State System’ By Aurobinda Mahapatra.

The parallels with US attempts at creating a comparable pre-state system, what it euphemistically calls “full spectrum dominance”, are remarkable if not exactly original. Of course in the uni-polar world that the US is desperately trying to create, such dissolutions into fragmented, ethnically-based states serves the age-old purpose of divide and rule, for how could a world fragmented into a collection of statelets oppose the power of the US?

The problem of course is that unlike the world of the Soviet period (let alone ‘the Age of Enlightenment’), there are now many major players on the world economic scene, all competing for markets in a period of over-production and under-consumption. The dilemma the EU faces exemplifies the paradoxes involved.

The bottom line then is that the crisis of capital has only two outcomes: remove the competitors or, face the end of capitalism and build a socialist alternative. If the former, then general war (whatever its form, ie “endless war”) is the only conclusion, thereby consuming the over-accumulated capital, ‘taking out’ the major competitors and embarking on a new round of capitalist accumulation aka the post-WWII situation, this is after all, the lesson of history.

The latter, by contrast is, at least in the current period highly unlikely but it is the only option that can save us.  Revolution anyone?


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