Even though it is not on TV news, one of the fastest growing and most consolidated trends in the world during the last three years has been the general rearmament of armies: from Morocco to Japan, from a Brazil wanting to become a continental gendarme to an Australia wanting to do the same in the Indian and the Pacific.
The increase of armed clashes and skirmishes directly between great powers, beyond the dimensions of the combats between proxy forces in different scenarios. We are talking about armored vehicles shooting at each other in Syria, bombardments of border artillery or clashes between fighter planes from Alaska to the Mediterranean. The kind of things that, when its frequency crosses a certain threshold, warn of a change in background. Something that, in the end, is also reflected in the level of verbal violence in official relations. The current tone would have seemed unimaginable between countries not engaged in open warfare even during the cold war. It is not only that the spectre of war is once again present as a distant and unpleasant threat. War, the prospect of a great war involving the great powers, is now part of the normal political conversation in the English-speaking world, and in Asia it has been for some time. In China, even immediate scenarios are discussed in the media, and the army says it is preparing for a military attack before the November presidential elections in the United States.
The acceleration that the crisis has experienced due to the economic consequences of the pandemic, far from stopping the urgings of national capitals, has exacerbated them. It is true that the pressure to export capital in the form of mega-projects such as the new Chinese silk road, has been re-escalated downwards. This is typical of a time when capital is being devalued and the prospects for profitability abroad are falling. But that does not mean that imperialism has been weakened or reduced. It is only that it is expressed above all as an even more exaggerated need to increase exports to make national production profitable in each country, whether we are talking about big powers like Japan, about semicolonial countries like Argentina or about medium-sized imperialisms like Spain.
This is not about geopolitics, no geographical fatalism is driving the tendencies to war, but the needs of a capital mobilizing all the social forces it structures to satisfy them. Forces which, when the time comes, as we see now with the planned channel in Malacca, are capable of even modifying that geography. imperialism is a general phase of capitalism, a certain state of development of capital at the world level, which leads each national capital and the state organizing and representing it, to ferociously fight for access to new markets for its goods and profitable applications for its capital abroad. It does not matter whether it is the national capital of a poor country or that of a rich country, large or small, of a democracy or of a totalitarian regime, whether its rulers present themselves as liberals or as socialists… As long as labor power is sold for a wage that will never equal the value of what is produced, the demand created by the system will be insufficient to buy back all production and realize the surplus value that gives it meaning. With the pre-capitalist markets reduced to a small part of the world GDP – subsistence farming, artisanal work, etc. – the only option for accumulation to keep pace with them will be to pass the buck forward by means of credits and to try to win over new demand markets and investment opportunities in other national capital markets. That is, while capitalism continues to exist, all national capitals will feel the same urgency. Wherever they are.
The social forces mobilized by imperialism seem unreachable, massive, fabulous… and they are so. In the end, capital leads the whole of productive forces, including the most powerful of them: the workers. That is why all those apparently unassailable forces are also tremendously fragile in the face of the first expressions of workers’ struggle. We have seen this happen in Libya during these months. It is not just that a very fledgling class struggle has managed to put a stop to the war. Its persistence now leads even the powers behind each side, to act together and fix in a hurry the basic infrastructure that they have destroying for years, in order to avoid the development of a true movement. A clearer materialization of the potential strength of the working class is difficult to find. That the logic of capital tends to generate the conditions for war is evident. That in the conditions of imperialism this also means an evident danger of generalization, even of a new world war, too. But whether that war will break out and above all, develop, depends, in the end, on us. We workers are the only ones who can put a stop to the tendencies towards war and, if it does break out, put an end to it, acting as a single class on both sides of the front.