2021: New global imperialist map and focusing of war prospects

26 December, 2021

British military drills in Malvinas/Falklands
British military drills in Malvinas/Falklands

In 2021 the global economy was reconfigured to prepare for war; imperialist tensions converged strongly around the US-China conflict; Europe lost its centrality; and new hot spots appeared that, for the first time, directly involved two of the main South American states on the road to war.

Table of Contents

2021, the year we saw the real face of capitalist anarchy…

Suez Canal and the new international division of labor
The Suez Canal blocked

2021 was to be the year of the much-touted “V-shaped recovery”. It ends with two historically important observations.

The first is that only the USA and China have managed to regain the rates of accumulation prior to the 2020 lockdowns; the second is that the rate of accumulation in China is greater than that of the USA, that is to say, the distance between the two major imperialist powers continues to shorten between them and to increase compared to the rest.

Cumulative change in real GDP up to the third quarter of 2021. Only the US and, to a greater extent, China, have recovered the pace of accumulation.
Cumulative change in real GDP up to the third quarter of 2021. Only the US and, to a greater extent, China, have recovered the pace of accumulation.

This is partly due to the success of the “zero Covid” strategy implemented by Beijing, but also because it is not proving so easy for the US to strangle Chinese development despite its fragilities and contradictions.

The interruption of the Suez Canal flow in March highlighted the dependence of European and US capital on Chinese industrial production, despite growing efforts to renationalize or relocate strategic production to “safe” semi-colonial countries.

In the background lay the realization that attempts to abruptly restructure the international division of labor could only increase capitalist anarchy and collapse already irrational logistical systems designed to maximize profit at the expense of the most basic safeguards.

By that time, the sanctions and restrictions already imposed by Trump on the Chinese technology industry and its suppliers, a strategy hardened by Biden, were causing the first signs of industrial shortages and a generalized shortage of chips. In other words, they were also highlighting the role of industrial and capital over-concentration.

Moreover, the fact that the over-concentration of capital inevitably produces the formation of massive fictitious capitals dedicated to speculation is nothing new. Something that could only be encouraged by the global weakness of the “recovery” and the design of capital’s main strategy to revive accumulation, the Green Deal.

International durum wheat prices until August 2021
International durum wheat prices until August 2021

The result: a speculative boom in gas, coal and raw materials linked to the Green Deal which are both the result and the driver of an increasingly aggressive imperialist competition. And along with it a drastic increase in the price of wheat and other globally produced staples… paid for in impoverishment and starvation for workers everywhere.

And putting all the pieces together… more capitalist chaos, as we saw in Britain. These were the months of endless shortages, waste and even more artificial scarcity than usual, accompanied by hypocritical and false cries about a lack of manpower. The important thing was to hide the fundamental fact: the price-fixing mechanisms of state capitalism were failing miserably in central countries like the USA, Great Britain or South Korea.

… and militarism

The U.S. and British fleet patrols the Taiwan Strait.
The U.S. and British fleet patrols the Taiwan Strait.

When we talk about militarism, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the model of the Stalinist dictatorships or Pinochetism: the militarization of social control, the militaristic eagerness displayed in never-ending parades, etc. But this is only one of its possible manifestations and generally only appears in countries with weaker national capital. In reality, militarism is a general process of orientation and supervision of the economy (=accumulation) and society towards war.

That is why the forced and abrupt transformation of the international division of labor and with it of the supply chains initiated by the USA and joined by Great Britain, Australia and the EU, among others, is a qualitative leap in the development of militarism.

Not only is technological development conditioned by military imperatives -as with quantum computing-, but by changing the map of the international division of labor, the whole economic process in each country is being subjected to strategic-military considerations in the perspective of a “major conflict” expected to take place between 2022 and 2028. Thus, as readers of our Telegram channel have been able to follow almost daily, the transformation of the international division of labor is being accompanied by a genuine global arms race.

The US strategic pivot towards China and the peripheral character of Europe in the new imperialist map

The departure from Kabul

The images of the chaotic departure of US troops from Kabul airport mark the end of a long era of direct US military intervention in the Middle East.
The images of the chaotic departure of US troops from Kabul airport mark the end of a long era of direct US military intervention in the Middle East.

The arrival of Biden to the US presidency accelerated from day one the worsening process of imperialist tensions on practically all possible fronts: from the Falklands to China, passing through the Black Sea.

The explicit goal was to encircle China and Russia with a ring of alliances and hot spots. However, it had a weak point: the Middle East. And although in March the US bombed Hezbollah forces in Syria and made gestures threatening to extend the war in Afghanistan indefinitely… as the months progressed it became clear that Washington’s strategic objective was to wage one or more wars to “contain” China and that this was incompatible – at least economically – with maintaining its own army as a decisive player in the Middle East.

Already in April the US moves drew a new map of the global imperialist conflict with Ukraine or the Falklands as hot spots… but excluding Afghanistan. And when Biden finally decided to give the green light to the Afghan exit plan, he did not even ensure whether the Afghan army would be able to cover a decent exit of the European armies and the factions of the local bourgeoisie on which they had relied.

The European bewilderment was total. European propaganda -more reckless than Chinese- fanned fears of a new wave of migration and proclaimed the “end of the American era” against a background of insecurity and imperialist greed.

Significantly, it was clear to the Hong Kong press that this was not going to happen. As much as the official media in Beijing were not short of epithets when it came to describing the American “humiliation”, no one in the Far East had any doubt about the fact that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was the preamble to an even more aggressive imperialist policy in the Indo-Pacific, with Taiwan as a hotspot.

But in order to understand what was going on in the imperialist panorama, the debate in the British parliament proved even more illuminating. Labor and Conservatives reproached Johnson for the inability of the British military to sustain itself for a single day without the US.

Theresa May rhetorically asked where the fabled Global Britain promised for post-Brexit was now. Johnson responded by stating the obvious: the Americans did not consult with their NATO allies about the withdrawal or its dates, and the British – and the Europeans in general – do not have the capacity to replace the American military force in a scenario such as Afghanistan.

The “end of the American era” will not be the end of the “special relationship”, but it will mean the definitive loss of one of the most cherished illusions of the British ruling classes: their ability to influence Washington by virtue of a two-way global alliance.

The Afghan fiasco is worrying in Europe not because it will mean the “end of the American era”, but because it has once again shown that Biden’s US has no more regard for the EU than Trump had.[…].

With the mood of the evacuation tensions running high and EU officials accusing the U.S. military of obstructing the departure of Europeans and their collaborators, European media and think tanks began commissioning analyses on both sides of the Atlantic, querying whether they can truly bring to a close an era of American unilateralism and resume sovereignty in the design of their own imperialist policies or whether what had happened, quite simply, was that the turn to China by U.S. capital had left them even more out of the imperialist game.

Is Kabul the “end of the American era”?, 25 August

AUKUS

This new peripheral character of Europe would become clear in September. Just the day after the President of the European Commission, in her State of the Union address, unveiled the acceleration of plans for a “European army” and all that goes with it – arms development and a new political bloc between Germany, France and Italy, with Spain as a shieldmaiden – Biden presented AUKUS.

And AUKUS is a new slap in the face for the European powers. France discovers overnight that it has lost the “contract of the century” without Biden ever wavering for a moment.

U.S. officials stated that the decision to scrap the existing France-Australia contract and replace it with one that would link Australia technologically and strategically to the nuclear submarine program generated virtually no internal debate. The reason was simple: in Biden’s White House, the imperative to challenge China’s growing clout and its efforts to push the U.S. Navy eastward toward the next island chain in the Pacific comes above all else.

Secret talks and a hidden agenda: behind the US defense deal that France called a “betrayal,” New York Times, Sept. 17.

And it wasn’t just France. Britain appears as a figurant whose role only allows it to nod and accept a subordinate role vis-à-vis its former colonies. Theresa May goes so far as to question Johnson in Parliament whether joining AUKUS would not drag Britain into an unwanted war over Taiwan in the short term.

But for the US, the creation of AUKUS is a way of “forcing the hand” and presenting itself in the Asian balance with a new thrust in the perspective of bending the will of the Japanese and South Korean bourgeoisies.

For the US AUKUS means renouncing – out of desperation – to having the main Asian states as its main military and commercial vector in its confrontation with China. It takes a step back and decides to start with its “hard core” of alliances with other English-speaking countries where its influence has always been overwhelming, in order to continue advancing in the encirclement of China. […]

French capital has come up against a truism: the “either with me or against me” policy already applies in Asia. AUKUS represents, in reality, a blow on the table in the most sensitive scenario for Washington in its quarrel against China. It is being set up to forcibly accelerate the formation of an imperialist bloc in the Pacific and to force all the states that want to play in the region to decide for or against it.

AUKUS and the road to world war III, September 17/cite>

US and Russia in Europe

Hybrid attack? The picture is from the Polish side of the border. On the other side there are only families and young people going cold and thirsty.
Hybrid attack? The picture is from the Polish side of the border. On the other side there are only families and young people going cold and thirsty.

The loss of Europe’s centrality in the great global imperialist game would become even more evident during the following months. The US would play on its own, independently of the Europeans, not only in Asia, but in all the imperialist conflicts surrounding the EU, even in the Western Balkans and especially in the increasingly explosive Bosnia.

And after the European embarrassment at the border with Belarus, where 4,000 refugees placed at the border by Russia were met with panic and accusations of “hybrid warfare,” Biden will to this day take an active role in whipping Russia into open war. So active that while with one hand he aggravated the tensions, with the other he promised that in the worst case scenario – Russian invasion of another part of Ukraine – the U.S. response would be limited to economic sanctions and that in no case would it deploy troops to Ukraine.

In reality both Biden and Putin reinforce their leverage in Europe by increasing tension without either having a strategic interest in going further. For both, it is a matter of exacerbating the internal contradictions of the EU, caught between the anti-Russian warmongering of the Baltic and Eastern countries and the German need to secure gas supplies. The result is an inevitable and dangerous hot spot… reminding the European imperialist powers of their increasingly peripheral and dependent character.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the European powers, while continuing to follow the US, are putting a stick in the wheel of the US efforts to frame them in its global bloc building strategy.

The year began with European involvement in the spurious US campaign to blame China for the origin of Covid and uncritical support for the imposition of a global minimum corporate tax rate, originally intended as a response to the European “Google tax” and the basis for a US economic bloc. It closes with the passive sabotage of Biden’s Democracy Summit and US leadership aspirations at COP26.

And the new year starts with the organization of a European defense summit in Paris that Macron wants to turn into the starting point of European military autonomy.

Towards a US-China war over Taiwan within five years?

Chinese fighter jets and nuclear bombers patrol alongside the Taiwan border.
Chinese fighter jets and nuclear bombers patrol alongside the Taiwan border.

The main evolution of the imperialist conflict in 2021 has not been limited to consolidating the US pivot to China. Both China and the US have focused the prospects of open warfare between the two powers on Taiwan… which also means giving it a time window.

China will have the capability to close the Taiwan Strait by 2025 according to the Taiwanese defense minister. In other words, 2025 would mark a turning point in China’s military capabilities that would make possible the economic blockade of the island without the need to go to war. The U.S. strategy of exerting pressure without going on to direct confrontation would then have an expiration date.

Although in a context in which no information is reliable, the “leaks” about the US defeat in the AI race, asserted by Google itself, are very worrying. In the end, the imperialist confrontation between the US and China is not a struggle of positions as between Russia and the US, but a direct struggle for markets and capital applications. In other words, the technology race is its clearest expression. If the US really believes that it can be left behind technologically in the short term, the drive towards war would be present as an immediate urgency.

Is the US willing to start a war in Taiwan?, Oct. 13

Moreover, the internal divisions of the US bourgeoisie and its political calendar have been incorporated into the determination of the war horizon, which could accelerate the timing.

Last October 21, Biden openly declared himself determined to “defend Taiwan” in case the Chinese government, which considers the island a province, blockades or invades it. Since then, the question in the Washington media has shifted from whether the US would be willing to go to war to whether the navy has sufficient means to win it.

And in the Democratic debate in Washington, this translates into a tendency to embrace and accelerate the new strategic perspective that is opening up in the Republican Party and which foresees a series of wars of “containment” against China, starting with Taiwan. They see the conflict as inevitable, they know that in 2025 it could be won by Beijing and they consider the electoral advantages of bringing it forward, especially if the navy gives certain guarantees of a victory. The parallel with Roosevelt ultimately is one of the truisms of the current presidency.

Elections in Virginia and New Jersey and the slide toward war in Taiwan, 3 Nov.

This prospect of “localized wars” between China and the US – on something akin to the Falklands War model between Britain and Argentina – is little more than a delusion. As Asian military analysts recognize, the longer the outbreak of conflict is protracted, the more unlikely it is that the US could achieve a victory without hitting the supply lines of Chinese industries and, probably, opening an all-out war.

And the Chinese bourgeoisie is no less oriented to concentrate and direct accumulation and the reform of the political apparatus in order to put them at the service of a war that everyone takes for granted. The November CCP plenary meeting that consecrated Xi as head of state was not simply the staging of a new balance of power between sections of the Chinese state bourgeoisie and the party-state bureaucracy.

The power core of the Chinese bureaucracy celebrates the reform of its main political structure, the disciplining of the financial and corporate bourgeoisie, and the development of the military capabilities of the army as the basis of its new imperialist position at a time when, it acknowledges, the imperialist scenario has become “more complex and serious” for its interests. It sets as its immediate goal a reunification with Taiwan that can hardly be peaceful and closes by calling:

The entire party, the entire army and people of all ethnic groups to unite more closely around the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the center.

This recentralization of power “with Comrade Xi at the center” would be the beginning of “new journey” that would bring “great victories and glory.” Translated: a new Chinese global expansion with the horizon of a war present at every step.

Changes in China: Beyond Xi’s enthronement, Nov. 12

The new centrality of Malvinas and the Sickle Sea

«ARA Islas Malvinas» crossing «mar de Hoces» (Drake Passage).
«ARA Islas Malvinas» crossing «mar de Hoces» (Drake Passage).

But China’s imperialist strategy is not limited to its surrounding territories, it is expanding across the new map of imperialist conflict at an astonishing speed. U.S. reports warn of growing pressure from Beijing on the Uruguayan government to cede land and create a military base on the Rio de la Plata, linked to the one it is already negotiating with the Equatorial Guinean government in Bata.

Meanwhile, from the Pacific, Chinese trawlers have raised awareness of the new importance of the Sea of Hoces (Drake’s Passage), after which the US and Great Britain have increased tension in an unusual way since the Malvinas, positioning themselves not only towards Beijing but also towards the Casa Rosada (the Argentinean presidential palace). At the same time, Chile claims a large part of the maritime area of the Sea of Hoces against Argentina, which is building new airstrips in the Antarctic and accelerating the construction of a military logistics base in Ushuaia while reinforcing its southern fleet.

The passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific is becoming a strategic point similar to Suez during the 20th century and the consequences within the region are becoming tumultuous.

It is not surprising that Boric’s victory in Chile, a native of the Magellanic region, was received with relief and even enthusiasm in the Argentine Foreign Ministry. It buys some time in the face of the coming duel of giants, which, before anyone fires a shot, endangers the export targets of both South American economies, dependent on maintaining the growth of Chinese trade and investments without losing the blessing of the US.

2021: a decisive year on the road to war

Biden, Morrison and Johnson present AUKUS
Biden, Morrison and Johnson present AUKUS

We have left out of this summary the evolution of the war in Ethiopia, the ballet of imperialist movements in the Maghreb – which already appeared in the summary of the year in Spain – and the role of Egypt in the Mediterranean vis-à-vis Turkey. Also the particular situation of Iran and India in the new polarization underway and even the open triangle between the USA, Japan and South Korea. All of them must be interpreted within this new map of the imperialist conflict that has been decided this year and which we have tried to outline.

What we want to highlight from 2021 is above all that the global economy is twisting itself in preparation for war, that imperialist tensions are converging around the US-China conflict at increasing speed; that in this context Europe has lost its centrality; and that new hot spots are appearing which, for the first time, directly involve two of the main South American states on the road to war.

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