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“It will take an enormous effort to resist Western imperialism”

an interview with Immanuel Ness

Immanuel Ness is professor of political science at City University of New York and author of Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class.

Southern-Insurgency-The-Coming-of-the-Global-Working-Class

Q: You are interested in the problems of the global South. Can we say that its boundaries are changed now? For example, the countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans are now increasingly faced with the problems typical for the Third World. Can we now include countries such as Greece and Ukraine to the global South?
IN: The boundaries of the global South have changed and uncannily remain the same as the imperial powers maintain economic, political, military, and even cultural control over their former colonies.
In the first instance, the imperial powers of Europe and the settler colonial states in the Americas and Australiasia continue to militarily dominate countries in their regions and throughout the world. The dominant capitalist powers, the United States and Western Europe, continue to exert military influence over the countries in their region and throughout the world. This power has expanded to include economic domination. In the case of East Asia, Japan remains an imperial power through its dominance over financial markets and distribution in the region. The exclusion of China from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) demonstrates that the US is extending and reinforcing its economic and military power in the Pacific, with the support of the Japanese and other regional states, whose industrial labourers constitute among the most exploited working classes in the global South: for example, Indonesia and Vietnam.
On the question of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the region is increasingly marginalized and exploited by the EU and Western Europe as a whole. The hegemonic media of Western Europe and America duped workers in the former Eastern bloc countries to believe that ‘free-market’ capitalism would improve their lives through providing access to a host of commodities. What they failed to consider was that under the new system, health care, education, housing and other basic needs would be withdrawn. While they may have had access to western brands, largely produced by the super-exploitation of cheap labour from the global South, many lost their jobs, and life expectancy and living standards declined precipitously. In this case, under EU style neoliberal capitalism, production in East Ukraine would be hollowed out, unemployment would rise; expanding the size of the reserve army of labour to the point that low wages and working conditions would in many ways, look a lot like a Third World country.
In this way, the economy of Greece has been decimated by the financialization of capital, and the vast majority of workers in Ukraine are falling further into abject poverty. Western Europe and NATO bear responsibility for intervening politically and economically in Ukraine, pushing it into civil war through their support of the Maidan movement. Under the strictures of its plan to supposedly integrate Ukraine into Europe, the popular majority will be forced into a position of subordination to Europe as a source of cheap labour. Ukrainians already comprise a majority of trafficked sex workers in Western Europe; now this will be extended to service and industrial workers. Paradoxically, it is possible, if current conditions remain, that Ukraine will be pushed further from the European centre, to the periphery, and into economic ruin. How far will Ukraine fall? Will it form part of the Third World? Major financial indicators demonstrate that living standards and quality of life have fallen for the majority. Also, the April 2014 military assault against East Ukrainian, an industrially-developed region, which is now defending itself from a revanchist military, has devastated the region and the entire country, which will likely be plunged further into poverty under EU integration.
Living standards in Greece, and the Balkans, as well as peripheral countries of Europe, have also declined due to overdependence on finance, tourism, and other sectors, which are more susceptible to recession. Plundered by capitalists with the support of national ruling classes, these economies have lost the capacity to produce for internal markets and in many ways resemble countries of the global South. Yet we certainly cannot equate them with the poorest nations of Africa and Asia. I would add that the US, France, and the UK also benefit from the resistance to the forced economic exploitation in these regions through justifying arms sales to its NATO members and allies, like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Military arms sales are the leading export in the US, which benefits whether or not integration takes place. On the basis of economic standards, on the whole, Eastern Europe, once an economic engine for prosperity, is trending more toward global South Conditions, as are the Balkans and other peripheral countries of Europe.

Q: In turn, a number of countries demonstrate the enviable achievements in its economic development. For example, Brazil and China already have started to invest capitals in the economy of African countries. Can we exclude them from the countries of the global South?
IN: The economies of Brazil and China have advanced dramatically from the 1990s to the present. Living conditions have improved, as has life expectancy, health care, education, and social services. But we must ask ourselves, at whose expense? As far as China, quality of life for most urban residents have improved, though not as fast as during the Mao era. But as conditions improve, we must recognize that Chinese workers produce cars, electronics, computers and smart phones, and clothing at wages that are a fraction of those earned in the West. In this way, the Chinese working class is subsidizing the cost of products used by westerners, who can purchase good at a fraction of the price than if produced in the West. However, the major beneficiaries of low-cost production are transnational corporations (TNCs) like Walmart and financial capitalists, who have profited most from the super-exploitation of Chinese and other workers in the global South. It is high time that wages grow throughout Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and all of Indochina. Today western capitalists are benefiting through this system of super-exploitation and the TPP will only expand investment to countries with large reserve armies of labour, where workers will earn a fraction of those even in China. In Brazil, the economic development has enured to its ruling classes and those who are most well off, while the majority live under poor conditions. Moreover, Brazil remains dependent on its rentier economy, whereby profits are earned through extraction of minerals and agricultural commodities. As commodity prices plummet, those squeezed first are workers in these industries, as is the case in other global South countries which remain dependent on commodity exports. Now on the question of Africa, it is true that China, and to a lesser extent, Brazil, has expanded investment in African countries. But we also must remember that neither country has military bases in Africa, as does the US, France, and the UK. We now see the disastrous consequences of NATO’s intervention in Libya and the breakup of Sudan, which has only intensified local and regional conflicts. Certainly China has invested capital into Africa, and the specifics of these investments are not equivalent in every region of the continent. Chinese investors have been shown to have not plundered countries in the same way as European imperial powers, as in the Congo and elsewhere. Once again, it is clear that the ultimate beneficiaries of Chinese investment in Africa, which is largely in the minerals sector, are TNCs who benefit from lower-cost products that are eventually produced in China. We must understand the experiences of Chinese investments in Africa and understand the differences with the West, and how profits are distributed. No question, for 5 centuries, Africa has been plundered by the West. In no way can one compare China’s investments to the system of slavery created by Western Europeans or the extraction of natural resources from the lands, and now, the promotion of war, especially in the Great Lakes region. Thus, without question, China benefits from investments in Africa, we need a thoroughgoing assessment of this experience and how it benefits TNCs in the West, as well as the Chinese capitalist class. Both China and Brazil are mainly countries which remain highly exploited by the West, and in this way, they are firmly in the global South, even though western economists seek to parse out terminology like developing and emerging economies. In some ways both countries have developed infrastructure and factories, most production is for export to North America and Europe. Also, under the neoliberal global system of financialization, China and Brazil are entrenched in a system of subordination to foreign capital markets where the bar for profitability is constantly raised and access to key technology is maintained by western TNCs. While the gains of China and Brazil are truly impressive, wages and conditions of most workers in both countries are highly vulnerable to the West.

Q: Climate Conference passed in Paris. Has it real chances to stop the effects of global warming especially for undeveloped countries? CADTM representatives, who participated in the Paris Conference, recently put forward the idea of “climate debt” http://cadtm.org/Paying-climate-debts-for-global It is expected to recover it from old industrial powers. How would you comment on this initiative?
IN: Scientific observers recognize that the Paris Climate Conference accords, celebrated by the western powers, will not have a smidgeon’s influence on anthropogenic climate change and does not at all compensate countries of the global South for bearing the most significant ecological burden from global warming. It is the global North, especially the US and Europe, which bears responsiblility for most of the CO2 emissions which are destroying ecosystems, primarily in the Global South. Proposals for a ‘climate debt’ offered by CADTM representatives are a step in the right direction to ameliorate some of the devastating consequences of climate change in the South. Unfortunately a ‘climate debt’ on the global North should be the point of departure for addressing anthropomorphic climate change, which is having the most dire consequences on the global South, where 85 percent of the world’s population reside. Moreover, given that the TNCs domiciled in countries of the global North are the beneficiaries of low-cost manufacturing goods produced in the South, which now suffers to a far greater extent from flooding and draught, a global minimum wage must be applied and implemented to seriously address the impending disaster through preventing the constant relocation of foreign investment to new facilities. Absent imposing a ‘climate debt’ and a global minimum wage, climate change will continue to ravish the global South. The Paris Climate Conference was nothing more than a public relations victory for the West and ruling classes who have plundered their own countries to benefit western capitalists.

Q: In the second half of the twentieth century undeveloped countries caused both anxiety and hope. They had a lot of difficult problems, but many of them had powerful social forces that fought for their solution. And what is situation now?
IN: Yes, I agree, independence in the Third World was fraught with contradictions. The anxiety and hope is a good way of putting the matter, as the dialectic process, brought formal freedom and greater oppression. In this way, Frantz Fanon’s work remains prescient as the Third World must continue to struggle for economic and political independence. Initiatives to create socialism were immediately crushed by the former imperial powers, who persist in dominating their former colonies, as well as the emergence of a global capitalist system, which has concretized a system of global capitalist domination, primarily located in the West. The western bourgeois-democratic model has allowed capital to plunder the global South now more than ever before through imposing a model of freedom rooted in neoliberalism and financialization. Today, no country in the Third World is invulnerable to financial markets which can disinvest in robust economies, such as Brazil. Moreover, today more than ever, western capital is supported by the US and NATO, which controls key ocean routes and imperil countries which seek to create a socialist society. The US and France prop up dictatorships throughout the world and sell arms to the ruling classes in the Third World. Efforts to build socialism, which continue to this day are vulnerable to destabilization and western-backed coups. It will take an enormous effort to resist western imperialism. Hugo Chavez’ dream of a Bolivarian republic in South America and the Caribbean was a step in the right direction and a vision for the future.

Q: A problem of the Arab Spring maybe is connected with the previous question. In 2011, mass movement spread aiming at the democratization of public life. However, a wave of right reaction quickly replaced them. What is the reason for this turn?
IN: Certainly the objectives of the working people in the Arab world was genuine and popular masses strove to advance democracy. But the term ‘democratization’ is a term used by the US and its imperial allies to destabilize governments and impose regimes friendly to the West. Most essential in true democratization is creating socialism through removing inequalities and expanding the capacity of states to provide essential services. How can one have democracy when people do not have the bare essentials: health care, education, housing, or even sufficient food and water? The genuine popular aspiration of the Arab Spring reflected the desire for greater equality and a resistance to impoverishment by dictators, mainly imposed by the west. But in a global system of neoliberal capitalism, with local comprador ruling classes, access to basic needs were withdrawn. This is certainly the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria where ruling classes were garnering a greater share of national wealth. People resist oppression especially when they are denied basic essentials to live. The Arab Spring was co-opted by ruling elites in the region and neoliberals to demonstrate that bourgeois democracy would lead to prosperity. But in fact the reverse happened. In each country, any hope for genuine democracy was vanquished by military means and sectarian alliances. Initially NATO intervened in Libya, destroying a prosperous economy and plunging the country into civil war, which continues to this day, and the loss of tens of thousands. After overthrowing Muammar Gadaffi in 2011, the US and its regional allies, sought the overthrow of the government of Bashir al-Assad, leading to nearly 300,000 deaths in a war that has devastated the entire region. Even in Egypt, the new government was forced out with US and Saudi support. One can go on and provide explicit details, but one thing is clear: Any observor will see the fingerprints of western imperialists in seeking to secure and gain control over the petroleum reserves of the region. In this way, I would argue that the Arab Spring is code for ‘color revolutions,’ which are largely organized by western secret service operatives through NGOs, human rights organizations, and investors seeking control over land and resources.

Q: According to media reports, only Rojava, Kurds controlled area in Syria, opposes the overall strengthening of reaction in the Middle East. Does it have a chance to survive?
IN: I think Rojava could survive if a regional accord were to include autonomous Kurdish territories. It seems obvious that the US seeks to maintain control over Kurdish territory within the context of a weak Iraqi state, especially given its oil reserves. Rojava is an interesting experiment in workers’ democracy and socialism. Speculating on its future is fraught with difficulty. However, I do not believe that Rojava can only survive outside the context of a broader regional socialist state committed to defend its status and system. Is it possible? Yes. But I think it is too early to speculate about Rojava’s future, especially in light of previous attempts to build socialist entities through the Ba’athist movements. If it were to survive, perhaps it would be part of a larger Kurdish socialist state. One caveat: I would be wary about Rojava’s future if it were to depend on military and financial assistance from the imperial powers.

Q: Syria today has become the hub of world contradictions. Almost all of the great powers and influent regional states are involved in the Syrian war. What could be the effect of the Syrian conflict for the future of international relations?
IN: From the early-1980s, it has been clear that the US and NATO have been seeking to gain greater influence over Eurasia, especially due to its geostrategic importance and proximity to petroleum and key sea routes. While it is too early to discuss the effect of the Syrian civil war on international relations, what seems clear is that foreign interventions will have dire consequences — in this case mainly on workers and peasants who have no stake in these imperialist wars. I don’t think that the imperialist powers will learn any lesson from Syria, as the key issue is control over precious resources and regions. That will continue, until a counter-hegemonic force is formed, rooted in the global South, committed to building socialism, and devoted to preventing imperialists from appropriating their resources; akin to the USSR from 1917-1953 and China from 1949 to 1976.

Q: The wave of terrorist attacks and bombings in Paris especially aroused the hatred and suspicion of Muslims in the West. Donald Trump even offered to ban the entry of Muslims in the United States. What alternative to this line do you see?
IN: Of course Donald Trump’s comments are odious and immoral. But Trump’s position is no different from other Republicans, who also have publicly said they oppose the entry of Muslims in the USA. Bearing this in mind, on the Democratic side, frontrunner Hillary Clinton publicly takes pride in the NATO bombing of Libya as US Secretary of State under Barack Obama, as well as laying the groundwork for the war in Syria. In fact, the US does have a history of barring foreigners, going back to the 1870s, when Chinese and Asians were barred from entering the country to 1924, when all foreigners were forbidden from entry. Thus, there is historical precedent. Ultimately, as the world’s hegemonic power, I do not think it is a sustainable position, as if such a plan were to be enforced, the US would marginalize itself. I don’t think the US capitalist class would support a position banning adherents of the Islamic faith. However, these ugly comments do reflect the position of many Americans, as do similar positions in Europe. The only alternative for internationalists and anti-fascists throughout the world is to reject intolerance and to embrace the Muslim communities as our own.
Q: Thank you for answers
IN: My pleasure. I hope my answers are helpful.

One Response to “It will take an enormous effort to resist Western imperialism”

  1. Danial Indrakusuma says:

    Correction:

    I will translate this interview, distribute and propagate among my fellow worker. Thanks for publishing this interview.

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