The “two sessions” in China, the breakdown of bolsonarism in Brazil and the return of the Turkish imperialist gamble have marked the world’s news this week. The three facts share a common element: the rise of the military sectors to new heights of power.
The 2020 “two sessions”
Every year the “two sessions” represent for the Chinese bureaucracy something similar to what the “armilustrium” meant for the Roman patriarchy: the state ceremony aligning the objectives of the ruling class by reaffirming them as the interest of the social whole before a new campaign.
This year was an even more intense year than ever before. China’s imperialist framework, the “new silk road (Belt and Road)“, is turning into a huge pool of unpaid credit; domestic production, for the first time since 1990, is not geared to growth; the fall in domestic demand is such that in order to meet the import pledge signed with the US to defuse the trade war, China has had to expand the list of favored US agricultural products; and of course to pass a package of “economic revival” measures on a scale never seen before.
Everything was immediately preceded by an increase in imperialist tension with the US and its allies in Asia and the Pacific: verbal and tariff escalation between China and Australia, border tensions between India and China, and between India and Nepal… With the US backing Australia, bolstering India and rearming Taiwan, the US Senate closing Wall Street doors to big Chinese companies and the diplomatic apparatus closing off channels with the Chinese bureaucracy and turning the WHO world assembly into a debate on whether or not the agency is independent of China.
Predictably, the result we are seeing within the Chinese bureaucracy is the growth of the crudest jingoist nationalism at every American movement to blame the spread of the Covid pandemic on the Chinese. From the first interventions in the two sessions it was clear that the state ceremony would consecrate Xi as the most powerful leader of the state since Mao, supported by the nationalist wave but above all solidly consolidated by the support of the army.
But the army’s support is not unconditional, nor will its consequences be circumstantial. The Chinese army is not only a military and political apparatus but also an economic one that thinks in geo-strategic terms. If, as it seems, these “two sessions” consecrate to the western regions of the country the main focus of the incentives to development, China would move on to prioritize the economic integration with Central Asia and Russia, assuring a very important military ally and “sheltering” an important part of the productive capital of eventual military conflicts in the China Sea.
Another of the army’s strategic objectives was to effectively regain sovereignty over Hong Kong, giving itself tools to control and repress movements openly encouraged by the Anglo-Saxon powers such as those seen in recent years. Hence the new “Security Law” for the city. The first reaction of the United States to the debate on the law was to threaten “strong retaliation” if it was passed. Both the US and Britain, and the capital funds associated with the financial city, have much to lose if China effectively asserts its political sovereignty.
But the biggest danger is that Hong Kong is one of those points on the Chinese imperialist map where military escalation can get out of hand very quickly. That is why, once again, it has been Trump who has stopped his own Senate from sliding into a spiral of sanctions. He thus confirms the expectations of the analysts who, in an increasingly frequent manner, point out that American power is divided between those who want to maintain the conflict with China under strictly commercial and economic terms – among whom would be Trump – and those who defend “that this is precisely the moment to attack, before American capacity is irremediably diminished”.
All of South America is suffering from the pandemic. Right now entire regions of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador are on the verge of sanitary collapse while in Chile contagion is spreading at full speed. The consequences beyond health are also not minor. Argentina went into default in the worst possible context. Ecuador is negotiating with its creditors, bordering on draconian cuts and adjustments – including the fuel subsidy that triggered last year’s revolt. And, in Chile, working class neighborhoods are now going out in protest from pure hunger, forcing the government to approve an “emergency income”.
But it is in the region’s leading power, Brazil, where the situation is both dramatic – over 20,000 deaths already – and politically significant. While Petrobras began to sell assets in the middle of what seems to be the beginning of a full-blown monetary crisis, political power is crumbling, leaving the power of the judiciary and the army as the almost sole reference point… with Bolsonaro as the destabilizing element in between. Even during the Mercosur crisis, the military became the available Brazilian interlocutor.
Bolsonaro’s situation is unsustainable and the accusations of corruption are already obvious. Videos appeared with the president telling his ministers that he is going to change the head of the federal police in Rio to avoid his family being indicted. While the Ministry of Health became an OM (military organization) and the military is taking more and more power. What was Bolsonaro’s “escape tactic”? New “jokes” about the covid that continued to alienate whole sectors of the Brazilian bourgeoisie. Even soda manufacturers charged against him and took advantage of the situation to demand that he withdraw the tax exemption from Coca-Cola. And they were just an anecdote, the São Paulo financial power does not stop calling on the businessmen to throw out Bolsonaro and Guedes.
Only in the midst of a terrible death toll from the pandemic, with a world record youth population affected by it and harassed every day by new police leaks, did Bolsonaro temporarily lower his tone in Parliament and call for dialogue with the state governors.
Dilma Roussef has already certified the impossibility to achieve an impeachment, so the alternatives are limited and all of them necessarily go through the military. At this point Mourão is not only the successor in case of death but the alternative to Bolsonaro. And the Brazilian bourgeoisie is increasingly willing to admit to a “new normality” in which the military exercises political power… nominally as civilians. The alternatives: to erode the state in the endless battle between judges and Bolsonaro or to let the army itself go one step further in its seizure of political power and execute a self-coup that is already being talked about openly in the entire press, both Brazilian and continental.
The foreseeable result, one way or another, is a consolidation of military power under the shell of the political apparatus of Brazilian democracy.
Turkey and the military salvation of Erdoganism
Only a few months ago the collapse of the Turkish imperialist adventures posed a regime crisis and a possible replacement by the Turkish bourgeoisie of Erdoganism and its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, with a government more easily accommodated to the global imperialist dynamic. But the understanding reached in Syria with Russia and a renewed military strategy in Libya have changed the scenario during the pandemic.
Today Turkey is the triumphant power in Libya. The causes: on the one hand, the crisis in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates -which Erdogan is attacking by taking advantage of its newly acquired financial weakness– and, on the other hand, a renewed military strategy that would have been unthinkable without the pandemic: using Turkish aircraft, directly from bases in Anatolia, to bomb and ensure decisive advances by the troops of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Tripoli. Unthinkable before the pandemic because only the set of phenomena it has unleashed explains the lack of reaction from the European and US powers. But also because its economic cost, even in terms of fuel, would have been unsustainable in another context – and perhaps will be again in the near future.
If in the imperialist battle Turkey and its economic interests have become the main enemy to be beaten, politically, at home, Erdogan has been perfectly aware of the danger posed by this new “military mortgage” that has one again barely saved his regime. So aware that this very week he dismissed the creator of the Libyan strategy. A general who had been in charge of purging the army of “Gülenists” and who was considered until now the main pillar of the government in the armed forces. While saber rattling should not be ruled out in the coming months, the dynamic is clear: the regime increasingly needs external military victories to stay at home, but those same victories lead it to face the prospect of a military tutoring or even a military coup.
Hence the tension with Greece and Cyprus is also coming back. In recent weeks, the Turkish air force hasn’t been able to avoid harassing the helicopter of the Greek defence minister and chief of staff. Driven by the return of refugees, the escalation of friction between patrol boats and fighter jets continues apace even today.
The rise of militarism
What we are seeing, from China to Brazil to Turkey, is an initial phase in the development of militarism. The political weight of the military reappears as a resource and a safeguard against the internal conflicts of the bourgeoisie (Brazil) but above all as a way of ensuring a viable medium-term strategic perspective (China) in a context where the centrality of the imperialist conflict shifts from the commercial and the placement of capital to the military (Turkey).
We are entering a phase of widespread breakdown of the international framework of military treaties accompanied by an acceleration of regional and global arms races that will most likely be accompanied by the reappearance or revival of national arms industries in partnerships that will increasingly incorporate China.
Militarism is no joke. It aims to reinforce the tendency towards war. And it is difficult to think of a more “irrational” massive use of resources and productive capacities at a time when unemployment is spreading throughout the world like never before and when in Africa alone, 20 million people are threatened with famine. But this is the “rationality” of a system that is long since as anti-historical as it is anti-human.