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The recent Manifesto Press book by Andrew Murray The Empire and Ukraine has been well received in the United States.

This review by Joe Jamison appeared at http://mltoday.com

This is a crucial book for antiwar activists in the US and others on the Left to study.   The Empire and Ukraine will be of greatest use to the antiwar movements and solidarity organizations in Britain, but its clear-eyed analysis can strengthen the antiwar movement here, still the main lair of the beast.

The title  would seem to suggest a study of one crisis only – Ukraine — but it offers more. The book sets the Ukraine crisis in a more general context of post-1991 world politics. Andrew Murray proposes a theoretical framework for deciding the question of the differences and similarities between imperialism a century ago and now. Then he expounds the complexities of the case of Ukraine. From the analysis flow recommendations on how the political Left, the labor movement and anti-war campaigns should respond to multiple war dangers.

In 138 pages Murray examines the international setting – the nature of contemporary imperialism, the role of NATO and the European Union, the place of Britain in the world order and the impact of the economic crisis that began in 2008 on world politics – and how they relate to Ukraine.

The two main parts of the book are “21st Century Imperialism”  and “The Ukraine in Five Questions”  There are  also three appendices, “Attacking ‘Stop the War’ – Two Polemics,” “How Imperialism Marks Major Anniversaries,” and “The Georgian War of 2008.”

His section on ideological confusions on the British Left depicts a scene not unlike that prevailing in the US. The bibliography of key works on imperialism could be a syllabus for the self-education of antiwar activists.

1916 versus 2016

How does the imperialism of 2016 different from the imperialism of 1916? Apparently many are taking up this question. Yesterday this reviewer received in an email an advertisement for 21st Century imperialism by John Smith from Monthly Review. There is also a new book from a US Left group, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, 21st Century Imperialism.

“Imperialism ” is one of those words from outside Marxism that Marxism has absorbed and made its own.

The word “imperialism” was first heard  from  the mouths of the imperialists themselves, plunderers such as Cecil Rhodes who carved up what remained of still-unconquered Africa and Asia and loudly defended their piratical gains.

Criticism of imperialism, fueled by opposition to the Boer War (1899-1902) took theoretical shape in the book Imperialism by the liberal British writer J. A. Hobson (1902). In the US, opposition to the Spanish-American War (1898) in which the US seized Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, included well-known Americans such as Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, and  Samuel Gompers organized in the Anti-Imperialist League. But when Marxism took over  the concept,  word imperialism largely was dropped in  respectable bourgeois discourse, until a few years ago.

Marx anticipated the qualitative change from free competition to monopoly that occurred at the end of 19th century in  his discussion in Das Kapital of the Laws of the Concentration and Centralization of Capital. Marxists such as Hilferding (in Finance Capital, 1910) and Bukharin (in Imperialism and World Economy, 1915) represented the beginning of Marxism’s theoretical absorption of the new reality. Karl Kautsky struggled with it, defining imperialism  as merely a policy of the advanced industrial countries toward the weaker agricultural countries. Kautsky argued that that imperialism is developing into a peaceful “ultra-imperialism” in which transnational capitalism supersedes national-based monopoly capitalism.

Rejecting Kautsky’s faulty formulations and conclusions, Lenin arrived at the classic Marxist understanding in Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) seemingly a modest “popular” pamphlet of 130 pages. In fact the pamphlet was the distillation of his Notebooks on Imperialism, which run to over 800 hundred pages and now make up Volume 39 of his Collected Works. Thus several decades of debate preceded Lenin’s famous work.

By defining imperialism as the monopoly stage of capitalism, not a mere policy, Lenin accomplished  the  grafting of the new reality  onto a consistent body of Marxist theory. That does not always happen; nowadays some Marxists all too readily use half-digested terms such as “capitalist globalization ” or “financialization.”

But, Murray argues, too many Marxists have been content to leave the analysis there, as if nothing had happened since Lenin’s  classic writing. Yet there have been obvious changes: the dominant power has changed (Britain in the decades before 1914; the US from 1945-present). The role of the state in capitalism has changed (modest a century ago except in wartime; massive, at all times, now). The main rival, ascending power has changed (Germany challenging Britain in 1914; People’s China challenging the US now)

A century ago, the revolutionary position was to reject both imperialist coalitions. In the First World War revolutionaries waged an uphill battle to convince  the working class to reject  misleaders who sided with “their own” imperialists. Lenin and the Bolsheviks advanced the slogan, “Turn the imperialist war into a civil war.” On the other side of Europe, in colonial Ireland, James Connolly and his Irish Citizen Army declared in the Easter 1916 Rebellion, “We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland.”

Since 1989-91, obviously, the world balance of forces has changed.  The downfall of the USSR has removed the powerful restraint of the socialist camp on imperialism. Some things remain the same.  There is still inter-imperialist rivalry — there always has been — since imperialism emerged.  The law of uneven development of capitalism still persists.

Does the end of socialism in East Europe and the USSR in 1989-81 mean we simply are back to the world of the First World War and before, when two coalitions of imperialist states, one led by Britain and the other led by a rising Germany, vied for supremacy in the world?

Such a stance, Murray argues,  ignores dialectics. The monopoly stage of capitalism (like the competitive stage before it, from which it evolved) is not static. Murray proposes a framework to enable us to see the imperialist system in its contradictory motion, in its development tendencies, in a word, dialectically.

Affirming his essential continuity with Lenin’s analysis, Murray rejects the notion that nothing has changed. He contends that three concepts that came out of the grafting process can shed light on what has changed in the intervening century.

“Three different abstract political “models” could be consistent with this general order and the prevailing balance of economic power – super-imperialism; inter-imperialist rivalry; and ultra-imperialism.

Super-imperialism assumes the world system is dominated by a single imperialist power, which rules all the rest, from lesser imperialist powers down to states which are not really powers at all, even perhaps within their own national borders.

Inter-imperialist competition argues for a continuing struggle for markets, influence and control by several powers, or blocs of powers, within a world system that tries to resolve their antagonisms on a bilateral or multilateral basis, but without either an overarching hegemonic regulator or combined authoritative mediating structures.

Ultra-imperialism postulates the merging of competing imperialisms into one integrated system, somewhat analogous to monopoly capitalist mergers. It differs from super-imperialism in that there is no one power commanding the others, and assumes a radical diminution of the capacity of the nation-state as a point of organization and power for capital accumulation. Lenin used the terms ‘superimperialism’ and ‘ultra-imperialism’ interchangeably – understandably so, since the idea of a single imperial power overwhelming all others, rather than all of them fusing together, was inconceivable 100 years ago.

Here we make a distinction between the drive for undisputed world hegemony by the US (super-imperialism), and the process of the elaboration of institutions and policies which embody the collective interests of world imperialism (ultra-imperialism), closely entwined as these two concepts evidently are.

In reality, since the emergence of modern capitalist imperialism in the late 19th century, the world system has always been a mixture of all three aspects, and it is so today – never has the world order corresponded entirely to one or the other.” [1]

But there is more to say, surely, in evaluating contemporary imperialism. The  still dominant US  is arguably declining, at least in some ways. US  power is ebbing economically and to some extent politically. But in a military sense,  the world is  still living in a Pax Americana . The US is still dominant in global  economic institutions (IMF , World Bank) , though its sway is challenged  by faster growing capitalist states (progressive ones such as Bolivarian Venezuela and some not so progressive suchas India) and by People’s China  (with its new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, to name only one initiative)

Such states are striving to build up an alternative architecture of international economic relations. Moreover, in 1914 there was no EU. The EU is both a rival and subordinate in relation to the US,  augmenting and sometimes restraining US power.

So what is the new configuration of contemporary imperialism , of the “world system” today? Murray states that elements of all three: “super”, “ultra”, and “inter” are present:

As a number of people have noted in recent times, the unipolar moment in international affairs has passed. Its tombstone will probably read : 1991-2008. A combination of the disasters and defeats of the “war on terror” and the economic crisis of neo-liberalism, together with the bounding growth of Chinese power and the steady returning of strength to the atrophied sinews of Russian authority, have turned the “one superpower” world into something more like “one-megapower” and quite-a-few rising powers planet – all in flat contradiction to the programme of the once-notorious Project for a New American Century which specifically enjoined US administrations to exert every effort to prevent any such pluralism of power emerging. Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama have all done their best in one way or another, but returning history has proved stronger. [2]

The Cause of the Ukraine Crisis

There is boundless arrogance in US policy toward Russia since the 1990s. US Administrations, of both parties, have dismissed Russian security concerns about invasion from the West, an astonishing position, given the 20th century history of the USSR, with 27 million dead in 1941-45 alone.

The relentless US drive eastward, bringing missiles ever closer to the borders of Russia , forgetting pledges made to the Gobachev leadership in 1990 not to push NATO eastward , is at the root of the Ukraine crisis.

...the crisis has in large measure been provoked by the continuing drive eastward in Europe by the USA and the European Union, the main props and beneficiaries of the post-1991 “new world order”. It is often said, and rightly, that the “unipolar moment” of unchallenged US world domination is passing; nevertheless US power, abetted in this case by the EU, is best seen as undermined and in relative decline, but it remains the only contender for a global hegemonic role. Even as it is troubled in the Middle East, and “pivoting” its immense military resources to the Far East to contain and confront ascendant China, it still looks to incorporate other countries within its zones of control (influence is too kind a word), that is to say, the formal and informal structures of the “New World Order”. [3]

Andrew Murray, calling Putinism a mix of “social conservatism, chauvinism, and nostalgia” but not a “dictatorship,”  [4] He quotes at great length – four pages –  a 2014 Putin speech laying out the logic of the Russian policy on Crimea. This long excerpt makes sense  on this side of the Atlantic. The US public is subjected , perhaps more than a British public, to unceasing demonization of Putin in the corporate media.  Television viewers here will have seen an endless loop  of mocking video footage of Putin  naked from the waist up riding a horse, but they will rarely have been exposed to his actual political views, which are quite rational.

Murray’s detailed summary of Ukraine’s complex history points out that Ukraine’ s borders have always been fluid and contested. He cites this example: before 1914 someone born in the city of Uzhgorod (in western Ukraine) could have lived, by 1992,  in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the western Ukrainian and then the Ukrainian national republics after World War I, Czechoslovakia ,Hungary, the USSR, and independent Ukraine, “all without moving house.” [5]

Here and there in the impressive summary of Ukrainian history an idea intrudes that one could question. “The collectivization of Soviet agriculture was a trauma from which Soviet society arguably and farm productivity undoubtedly never fully recovered.”  [6] But if collectivized agriculture was not more efficient than private agriculture, where did the surplus come from that paid for rapid Soviet industrialization in 1929-41? It’s an important debate about Soviet history, but a minor flaw, if a flaw at all, in a superb book.

Murray regards US “relative decline,” though real, as potentially reversible, a useful caution. US relative decline has been prematurely predicted before.

The Empire and Ukraine  will educate readers on the reactionary nature of the EU. Even the politically attentive classes in the US have a weak grasp of how central the question of the EU is in the politics of the continent. To be sure, knowledge is better now than it once was. The austerity hell through which Germany and its bankers have put Greece and other weaker states has improved understanding.

Attitudes  to the EU are the fault line of European politics dividing in the Left from the Center. The Left rejects the EU as imperialist and a bulwark of capitalism. Center forces — social democrats of the old and new variety — believe that the EU can be an agency of attaining “Social Europe.” They favor “critical engagement” with the EU.

The book is not for beginners. The reader should know something about foreign policy. Murray ‘s  writing is sophisticated and  passionate. This reviewer found delightful  the many flashes of irony and wit.

Andrew Murray has not only been doing excellent antiwar organizing, but also thinking deeply about antiwar strategy  too.  The depth of his thought  is on display in this luminous book.

Endnotes

[1] The Empire and Ukraine, 13.

{2] Ibid., 108.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid.,  48.

[5 ] ibid., 52.

[6]  Ibid., 57.

The Empire and Ukraine

Manifesto Press, Britain, 2015

Preface by John Foster

ISBN 978-1-907464-13-3, 139 pp.

http://www.manifestopress.org.uk

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