[News] We Are in a Period of Great Tectonic Shifts

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Thu Mar 17 10:49:34 EDT 2022

We Are in a Period of Great Tectonic Shifts: The Eleventh Newsletter (2022)
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*We Are in a Period of Great Tectonic Shifts: The Eleventh Newsletter 

Chiharu Shiota (Japan), Navigating the Unknown, 2020.

Chiharu Shiota (Japan), /Navigating the Unknown/, 2020.

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social 

The war in Ukraine has focused attention on the shifts taking place in 
the world order. Russia’s military intervention has been met with 
sanctions from the West as well as with the transport of arms and 
mercenaries to Ukraine. These sanctions will have a major impact on the 
Russian economy as well as the Central Asian states 
but they will also negatively impact the European population who will 
see energy and food prices rise further. Until now, the West has decided 
not to intervene with direct military force or to try and establish a 
‘no-fly zone’. It is recognised, sanely, that such an intervention could 
escalate into a full-scale war between the United States and Russia, the 
consequences of which are unthinkable given the nuclear weapons 
capacities of both countries. Short of any other kind of response, the 
West – as with the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015 – has had to 
accept Moscow’s actions.

To understand the current global situation, here are six theses about 
the establishment of the US-shaped world order from 1990 to the current 
fragility of that order in the face of growing Russian and Chinese 
power. These theses are drawn from our analysis in dossier no. 36 
(January 2021), /Twilight: The Erosion of US Control and the Multipolar 
Future/; they are intended for discussion and so feedback on them is 
very welcome.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun (Canada), The One Percent, 2015.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun (Canada), /The One Percent/, 2015.

*Thesis One: Unipolarity*. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, 
between 1990 and 2013–15, the United States developed a world system 
that benefitted multinational corporations based in the United States 
and in the other G7 countries (Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, 
France, Italy, and Canada). The events that defined overwhelming US 
power were the invasions of Iraq (1991) and Yugoslavia (1999) as well as 
the creation of the World Trade Organisation (1994). Russia, weakened by 
the collapse of the USSR, sought entry into this system by joining the 
G7 and collaborating with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) 
as a ‘Partner for Peace’. Meanwhile, China, under presidents Jiang Zemin 
(1993–2003) and Hu Jintao (2003–2013), played a careful game by 
inserting its labour into the US-dominated global system and not 
challenging the US in its operations.

*Thesis Two: Signal Crisis*. The US overreached its power through two 
dynamics: first, by overleveraging its own domestic economy 
(overleveraged banks, higher non-productive assets than productive 
assets); and second, by trying to fight several wars at the same time 
(Afghanistan, Iraq, Sahel) during the first two decades of the 21st 
century. The signal crises for the weakness of US power were illustrated 
by the invasion of Iraq (2003) and the debacle of that war for US power 
projection, and the credit crisis (2007–08). Internal political 
polarisation in the US and a crisis of legitimacy in Europe followed 
these developments.

Olga Bulgakova (Russia), /Blind Men/, 1992.

*Thesis Three: Sino-Russian Emergence*. By the second decade of the 
2000s, for different reasons, both China and Russia emerged from their 
relative dormancy.

China’s emergence has two legs:

 1. China’s domestic economy. China built up massive trade surpluses
    and, alongside these, it built
    up scientific and technological knowledge through its trade
    agreements and its investment in higher education. Chinese firms in
    robotics, high-tech, high-speed rail, and green energy leapfrogged
    over Western firms.
 2. China’s external relations. In 2013, China announced the Belt and
    Road Initiative (BRI), which proposed an alternative to the
    US-driven International Monetary Fund’s development and trade
    agenda. The BRI extended out of Asia into Europe as well as into
    Africa and Latin America.

Russia emerged on two legs as well:

 1. Russia’s domestic economy. President Vladimir Putin fought some
    sections of the large capitalists to assert state control of key
    commodity export sectors and used these to build up state assets
    (notably oil and gas). Rather than merely leech Russian assets for
    their overseas bank accounts, these Russian capitalists agreed to
    subordinate part of their ambitions to rebuilding the power and
    influence of the Russian state.
 2. Russia’s external relations. Since 2007, Russia began to edge away
    from the Western global agenda and drive its own project, first
    through the BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) agenda
    and then later through increasingly close relations with China.
    Russia leveraged its export of energy to assert control of its
    borders, which it had not done when NATO expanded in 2004 to absorb
    seven countries that are near its western boundary. Russian
    intervention into Crimea (2014) and Syria (2015) used its military
    force to create a shield around its warm water ports in Sebastopol
    (Crimea) and Tartus (Syria). This was the first military challenge
    to the US since 1990.

In this period, China and Russia deepened their cooperation in all fields.

Ibrahim el-Salahi (Sudan), Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I, (1961-65).

Ibrahim el-Salahi (Sudan), /Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I/, (1961-65).

*Thesis Four: Global Monroe Doctrine*. The United States took its 1823 
Monroe Doctrine (that asserted its control over the Americas) global and 
proposed in this post-Soviet era that the entire world was its dominion. 
It began to push back against the assertion of China (Obama’s Pivot to 
Asia) and Russia (Russiagate and Ukraine). This New Cold War driven by 
the US, which includes hybrid warfare through sanctions against thirty 
countries such as Iran and Venezuela, has destabilised the world.

*Thesis Five: Confrontations*. The confrontations hastened by the New 
Cold War have inflamed the situation in Asia – where the Taiwan Strait 
remains a hot zone – and in Latin America – where the United States 
attempted to create 
a hot war in Venezuela (and attempted but failed to project its power 
in places such as Bolivia). The current conflict in Ukraine 
– which has its origins in many factors, including the demise of the 
Ukrainian pluri-national compact – is also over the question of European 
independence. The US has used ‘Global NATO’ as a Trojan horse to 
exercise its power over Europe and keep it subordinated to US interests 
even if it harms Europeans as they lose energy supply and natural gas 
for the food economy. Russia violated the territorial sovereignty of 
Ukraine, but NATO created some of the conditions which accelerated this 
confrontation – not for Ukraine but for its project in Europe.

Olga Blinder (Paraguay), A mi maestra (‘To My Teacher’), 1970.

Olga Blinder (Paraguay), A mi maestra (‘To My Teacher’), 1970.

*Thesis Six: Terminal Crisis*. Fragility is the key to understanding US 
power today. It has not declined dramatically, nor does it remain 
unscathed. There are three sources of US power that are relatively 

(1) Overwhelming Military Power. The United States remains the only 
country in the world that is able to bomb any of the other UN member 
states into the stone age.
(2) The Dollar-Wall Street-IMF regime. Due to the global reliance on the 
dollar and to the dollar-denominated global financial system, the US can 
wield its sanctions as a weapon of war to weaken countries at its whim.
(3) Informational Power. No country has as decisive control over the 
internet, both its physical infrastructure and its near monopoly 
companies (such as Facebook and YouTube, which remove any content and 
any provider at will); no country has as much control over the shaping 
of world news due to the power of its wire services (Reuters and the 
Associated Press) as well as the major news networks (such as CNN).

There are other sources of US power that are deeply weakened, such as 
its political landscape, which is deeply polarised, and its inability to 
marshal its resources to send China and Russia back inside their borders.

People’s movements need to grow our own power, by organising the people 
into powerful organisations and around a programme that has the capacity 
to both answer the immediate problems of our time and the long-term 
question of how to transition to a system that can transcend the 
apartheids of our time: food apartheid, medical apartheid, education 
apartheid, and money apartheid. To transcend these apartheids leads us 
out of this capitalist system to socialism.

In the past week, we have lost many comrades, old and young. Amongst 
them, our Senior Fellow Aijaz Ahmad (1941–2022), one of the great 
of our time, left us at the age of 81. When Marxism was under attack 
after the fall of the USSR, Aijaz held the line, teaching generations of 
us about the necessity of Marxist theory; that theory remains necessary 
because it continues to be the most powerful critique of capitalism and, 
as long as capitalism continues to structure our lives, that critique 
remains boundless. For us at Tricontinental: Institute for Social 
Research, Aijaz’s mentorship was invaluable. In fact, the dossier 
/Twilight/, which helped us orient ourselves in the current conjuncture, 
was written after substantial discussion with Aijaz.

We also lost Ayanda Ngila (1992–2022), who was the deputy chairperson 
of eKhenana land occupation, part of South Africa’s militant shack 
dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo 
(AbM). Ayanda was a courageous leader of AbM who had recently been 
released from a second spell of being held in prison on trumped up 
charges. He was a kind comrade to his peers and a student and teacher at 
the Frantz Fanon School. When he was gunned down by his adversaries in 
the African National Congress, Ayanda was wearing a t-shirt with a quote 
from Steve Biko: ‘It’s better to die for an idea that is going to live 
than to live for an idea that is going to die’. On the walls of the 
Frantz Fanon School, the comrades at AbM painted their ideals clearly: 
Land, Decent Housing, Dignity, Freedom, and Socialism.

We concur. So would Aijaz.



Website <www.eltricontinental.org>




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