The decline of cosmopolitan power

12 June, 2020

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, General Director of the World Health Organization.

Tensions fueled by the pandemic have accelerated the dismantling of the network of multilateral international organizations. The alleged global nature of large companies and financial groups is also disappearing. The national bourgeoisies and bureaucracies are “re-nationalizing” and “decoupling” themselves, putting an end to the framework that had been promoted by the Anglo-Saxon powers during the last century, from the League of Nations to the WTO, the UN system and the “international capital funds”.

The scrapping of multilateral international organizations

It was clear that the shift – with the arrival of Trump as US President – to a policy of “one-by-one negotiation” of trade balances, either leaving aside multilateral trade bodies or attacking them head-on, would eventually bring the WTO down. Only China and the EU joined the temporary dispute mechanism of the WTO, whose director has just resigned due to the impossibility of achieving a minimum of cooperation between the US and China.

Once the institutional fabric of “globalization” had been struck to its heart, it was hard to believe that the house of cards of the international bureaucracy would not buckle after the loss of its real foundation. The first was UNESCO, an ornament for the post-war UN, from which USA formally departed in 2019. The debate at the time was centered on the institution’s permanent condemnation of Israel, but the extemporaneous exit of the main paymaster left a clear message that went far beyond the concrete reason for the dispute: the United States would not support any international organization that did not serve its political interests in each and every one of its decisions and statements.

That is what we saw with the WHO when the US government accused it of showing an “alarming lack of independence” from China and turned the organization’s world assembly into a dramatization of the imperialist conflict. Moreover, it set a precedent. Bolsonaro was more honest, however, instead of attacking the WHO for refusing to blame China for covid, his attack on the WHO accused the organization of only proposing confinement against the pandemic and thus obstructing the government’s economic objectives.

And now comes the barrage against the “International Criminal Court” (ICC). The US never accepted its jurisdiction. It saw it, correctly, as a European attempt to monitor the new role of “global policeman” that the US gave itself after the fall of the Russian bloc. The ICC became the poor and supposedly “idealistic” brother of the network of international organizations, the material piece on which hinged -with the antecedent of the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials- the utopia of a “universal justice” then useful against the resistance of the French-German axis to the furious advance of American imperialism.

In 2018 the US already threatened to reprimand ICC judges if they investigated the US army. The US message was clear again. So clear that in March 2019, Philippines abandoned the ICC treaty. If the dominant power can treat international bodies as terrorist organizations whenever it perceives them to be a political danger, any member country could leave the treaty at no cost.

Now the US has promised to enforce the sanctions against judges and their families as it threatened to do at the time. The EU denounces the blow and protests against it… showing its inability to create any court with any real capacity outside its own borders. If the EU cannot defend the judges of the ICC from the threats of those under investigation, even when the person under investigation is an officer of their “main ally”… What credibility can any “voluntary” multilateral body driven by the European powers possibly have?

“Financial wars” and the end of the financial cosmopolitanism

The HSBC building at Canary Wharf, London.

Capitalism is a global system not only because a global commodity market brings all continents together, but because finance capital connects all world capitals through a single framework… in which New York and the City of London represent the two most centrally located nodes. The United States, through sanctions and blockades, has learned to use them to restrict the direct and indirect access of its rivals to global financial capital. The results, with Iran alone, have been so damaging to the rival ruling class and its international projection capacity, that financial sanctions have become the favourite weapon of US lawmakers. In Al-Assad’s Syria, the prospect of isolation of the national capital is already producing panic and increasing internal strife between factions of the ruling family itself. Syria is not even the main victim, there is already talk of a real “financial war” being waged against China, much more selective -and lethal for Asian capital- than purely commercial reprisals.

Of course, financial warfare is neither an alternative to military pressure nor an insurance against the risk of war. One only needs to check the day-to-day life of the seas surrounding China to realize that one line and the other are not opposed but go hand in hand.

But for the national bourgeoisies and also very especially for the corporate bourgeoisie that runs the “international” macro-enterprises and financial groups, this is a real message. The tale of the non-nationality of capital is over, one cannot be in the world market today without the umbrella of a strong imperialism. A recent example: HSBC, a Hong Kong-based bank with British management, until now considered the “leading European bank”, broke away from the British government’s line and supported the Chinese security law on Hong Kong. A shock in the City. What happened? Nothing special, although the leadership of the bank was reassuringly recruited from the Anglo-Saxon ruling classes, its function is to look after a capital that generated 90% of its business in Asia. When the Trump government revoked, as a signal, an HSBC banking license in the United States and saw the danger of financial warfare coming to focus on its customers and investors… it quickly decided to ingratiate itself with the bureaucracy in Beijing… as did the entire Hong Kong bourgeoisie.

The decline of cosmopolitanism

Cathay first class lounge at HK airport.

The cosmopolitanism of the corporate bourgeoisie has lasted as long as there has been a free movement of capital. The bureaucracy of the international organizations -that training camp of ministers for Sánchez, Macri, Alberto Fernández and so many others- is in decline, retreating as the increase in imperialist tensions dismantles the organizations that gave it life. Its cultural symbols, from the “Eurenglish” community to the “Erasmus program”, are seriously affected by the pandemic and the invitable re-nationalization of the great ideological campaigns. Hence all those press columns, books and nostalgic debates that claim a “cosmopolitanism” that is fading… without having ever truly existed.

For the vast majority there is nothing to miss. The “cosmopolitanism” of some factions of the ruling class did not bring us anything good, nor did it serve – it could not – to renew an exhausted culture. But the causes of their exhaustion should concern us. The processes of renationalization of productive and capital chains, together with the increase of aggressions and threats among all imperialisms, are leading to an era of explosive crises, campaigns of violent nationalism and warlike conflicts in a general framework that is increasingly dangerous.

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