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The Convulsive Interregnum of the International Situation

The capitalist world is in a “permacrisis” — a prolonged period of instability which may lead to catastrophic events. The ongoing struggles for hegemony could lead to open military conflicts.

Claudia Cinatti

March 22, 2024
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The following is a contribution to the debates for the recent conference of the Trotskyist Fraction — Fourth International, which publishes the International Network of La Izquierda Diario. It was published on February 24.

Since the capitalist crisis of 2008, but more acutely since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, we have been arguing that a stage characterized by the reopening of the more general tendencies of the imperialist epoch — defined by Lenin as one of crises, wars and revolutions. These convulsive characteristics have manifested in tendencies towards organic crises (or open organic crises) in both imperialist nations and the periphery, protectionist tendencies, political polarization, and heightened social conflict. These characteristics had been attenuated with the defeat of the last revolutionary upsurge [of 1968-1980], the rise of neo-liberal globalization and the triumph of the United States in the Cold War, which gave rise to the brief unipolar order of U.S. hegemony.

As we have been laying out, Russia’s war against Ukraine/NATO is not a war of the same nature as the asymmetrical wars of the United States and other powers, such as those of the Gulf War, the War on Terror, or even those in the Balkans in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is the first major war on European soil since the end of World War II, which marked the beginning of an open questioning, including militarily, of the unipolar world order led by the United States.

The U.S.-led neoliberal order that has governed post-Cold War geopolitics is in deep crisis, highlighted by the Great Recession. Not only did China emerge as a power and the main competitor of the United States, intermediate powers such as Turkey, Brazil, India, and Indonesia have also emerged, pursuing their own national interests. Some analysts have compared this to the non-aligned movement during the Cold War, however in this case, these intermediate powers are interdependent with the United States/the West and China.

With the alliance between Russia and China formalized on the eve of the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, an “anti-Western bloc” has emerged. This bloc presents itself as a multipolar alternative to the U.S.-led order, acting as a pole of attraction for those condemned by the “West” such as Iran or North Korea. The emergence of this bloc, though still under construction, has objectively opened a space for multipolar alignments and fluid alliances, which various countries use according to their convenience. As a whole, they make up the so-called “Global South,” for now more a signifier than an economic-political entity with defined contours, but which expresses the weakening of the capacity of the United States to continue imposing its hegemony (with the exception of a handful of Washington’s servants such as the Milei government in Argentina, which has defined a return to “carnal relations”1Carlos Menem, president of Argentina from 1989 to 1999, defined his foreign policy towards the United States as “carnal relations.” — trans. as its foreign policy).

Some bourgeois analysts and theoreticians of international relations speak of a sort of reemergence of the “bipolar order” of the Cold War, this time between the United States and China. “Declinationism,” another current of geopolitics, proposes the emergence of a “multipolar world.” However, this feeds illusions that “multilateral institutions” could be reconfigured as a way for the United States to preserve its hegemony while at the same time “sharing” some power.

These are not merely academic discussions. As we have seen with the ongoing war in Ukraine, a campist sector of the international left considers the bloc led by China and Russia as “anti-imperialist” because it opposes U.S. hegemony. This is similar to the “campist” position typical of the Cold War, but instead of the Soviet Union, this time they align themselves with a reactionary capitalist bloc led by China (which seeks to emerge as a power deepening its imperialist traits). Another sector has adopted a “reverse campist” position of aligning with the Ukraine and NATO camp.

In addition to Marxists, bourgeois, liberal, and “progressive” intellectuals have been putting forward various theories about the “multidimensional crisis” — geopolitical, economic, political, social, environmental — that has opened a prolonged period of instability which may lead to catastrophic events. The term “permacrisis,” a neologism that refers to permanent and simultaneous crises, was chosen as word of the year in 2022. In a similar vein, historian Adam Tooze has taken up the category of “polycrisis” — originally formulated by Edgar Morin in the 1970s — as an alternative to Marxist explanations (in their deterministic version) of the crises of the last 15 years. 

Simply put, this is a situation in which various crises or shocks interact in such a way “that the whole is even more overwhelming than the sum of the parts.” As they are non-linear crises that feed on each other, the system becomes unpredictable. What is interesting about the “polycrisis,” at least phenomenologically, is that a partial solution exacerbates others or creates new ones. For example, making a structural adjustment to solve a debt crisis creates other crises: recession, social crises, political cataclysms, etc. This analysis is limited in that this web of interconnected crises (and some that remain relatively loose) does not account for the causes of the systemic crisis of capitalism and is ultimately a “crisis management model” that doesn’t pose an alternative to the capitalist system — even less the perspective of social revolution.

Although we have yet to see an open military conflict in this battle for hegemony (i.e. a World War III), an interregnum has opened up in which transitory phenomena — typical of stages in which the relation of forces is still undefined — prevail. How long it will last ultimately depends on the  development and outcomes of class struggle.

An Uncertain and Dangerous Situation Ahead of the U.S. Election

In the past year, the trend towards wars and militarism has deepened, reinforcing the sense of global disorder. On top of Russia’s war against Ukraine/NATO, the Israeli massacre in Gaza is ongoing, and is radiating out into the region. In only four months it has already involved some ten countries and threatens to drag the United States back into the Middle East. Ukraine and the Middle East are the two major theaters of operations, but not the only ones; there are other potential battle fronts. The strategic focus of US imperialism is in Asia, specifically China. For now, the conflict between China and Taiwan is not a priority, and for the moment, Biden has decided to put this aside by reaffirming that Taiwan’s independence is not on the agenda. In addition, hostilities have intensified on the Korean peninsula, with Kim Jong-un burning all bridges with the strongly pro-American and right-wing government of South Korea. Even in Latin America, the Essequibo crisis broke out between Venezuela and Guyana, which, without seriously risking the outbreak of a war, did have potential to escalate as Great Britain was mobilizing troops. Additionally, there were multiple coups d’état in Africa which shared the goal of the expulsion of French troops, but with national particularities. In some cases, these African countries also want to get rid of U.S. military presence, due to the continuing War on Terror and an economic, geopolitical and military rapprochement with the Chinese and Russian bloc.

The Biden administration is simultaneously involved in the Russia/Ukraine-NATO war and Israel’s genocide in Gaza. In both cases, and especially in the face of an election while he has record low approval ratings, the White House policy is to support its allies while at the same time avoiding a new conflict with troops on the ground, improbable in the case of Ukraine but feasible in the case of the Middle East. In Ukraine, the U.S. strategy was to benefit from a proxy war to weaken Russia (and in the process reinforce its leadership over the European Union) without putting a single U.S. soldier on the ground, which, although it worked in the early stages of the war, is showing its limits. The upcoming U.S. election in November has opened a relative impasse. However, it is not a passive “wait and see” impasse but active preparation in the event of a geopolitical shift. This is also why it is a dangerous year.

While it is true that on fundamental issues, such as hawkishness towards China, there is more agreement than disagreement between Trump and Biden, the extreme polarization between the Trumpist wing of the Republican party and the Democratic party is an expression of a deep division over the best strategy to deal with China. Biden’s strategy is one of greater interventionism and diplomacy, while Trump’s is a more unilateral policy with (rhetorically) isolationist elements. Although there are many months until the election, and Democrats have some expectation that economic improvement will help Biden’s re-election (which so far is not happening), the “Trump factor” is already having effects on the instability of world geopolitics, influencing the course of the war in Ukraine as well as Israel’s massacre on Gaza. The “Trump factor” is part of strategic calculations of both Western allies and declared enemies of the United States.

The European Union in particular is anxious about a possible Trump victory, who has once again expressed his disapproval of NATO. He even suggested that the United States would not respond in the event that a member that does not contribute the minimum two percent quota to NATO is attacked by Russia. In the context of Ukraine’s setbacks on the battlefield, questions are growing within EU countries about the unconditional alignment with the United States. The most obvious case is that of Germany, where a “sovereigntist” force has emerged, headed by the former leader of Die Linke, Sahra Wagenknecht, which proposes directly withdrawing support for the war and rebuild its relationship with Russia. According to sociologist Wolfgang Streeck, this policy would allow Germany to “free itself from the geostrategic grip of the United States.”

It is a fact that both Ukraine and the Middle East will affect the outcome of the election. Biden wants to show at least some success in foreign policy (such as a negotiation in the Ukraine war), or at the very least — reverse the strong disapproval in a significant sector of his electoral coalition due to his complicity with Israel’s genocide in Gaza. For the same reasons, the Republicans are unwilling to give Biden anything he can use to bolster his languishing campaign. In this tense tug-of-war, financial aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan is stalled in Congress because of the Trumpist “Freedom Caucus” wing of the GOP, who first conditioned approval of the aid on closing the southern border and further restricting immigration policy. When Biden and the Democrats agreed to their conditions, the Republicans withdrew from supporting it.

Behind this obstructionism is Trump’s questioning of funding and intervention in conflicts where imperialist national interest is not directly at stake. Of course, the latter is a matter of dispute. Those who support the war and frame it as a battle of “democracy against authoritarianism,” point out that Trumpist Republicans don’t realize that this aid is coming quite cheaply to the United States, as there aren’t any U.S. soldiers on the ground (nor for that matter of any Western power). Furthermore, the funding agreed for this year does not even reach 0.25% of the combined GDP of the EU, the UK and the U.S. Moreover, an important detail that often goes unnoticed is that much of this money remains in the United States, as the military industrial complex is greatly profiting. Zelenskyy has the most at stake here, as not only is U.S. aid to Ukraine delayed, but if Trump wins the presidency, he promises to suspend all U.S. aid to Ukraine. As was made clear in the very friendly interview with Tucker Carlson, Putin feels empowered with the prospect of a Trump victory. He has no incentive to negotiate and would only accept a total surrender from Ukraine.

The acute internal polarization, tendencies toward organic crisis, and Republican portrayal of Biden as weak and senile, hinder the policies that the U.S. is trying to negotiate in order to decrease tensions in the Middle East and more generally, erode the influence and the capacity of the U.S. to impose order. Although it could be said that we’re in a waiting period, within the more general framework of deterioration of inter-state relations and accumulation of contradictions, further “unexpected” events, such as the Hamas attack on October 7, cannot be ruled out, which would bring forth new crises.

The Impasse of the War in Ukraine

Two years into the war and following the resounding failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the spring of 2023, the conflict is at a standstill. From a tactical point of view, it has entered a stage in which the ground war of attrition is combined with the widespread use of drones. Ukraine’s use of drones compensates for its lack of ammunition and gives some ability to attack targets in Russia territory. At the same time, drones amplify Russia’s destructive capabilities, which relentlessly attack Ukrainian cities and infrastructure.

To a large extent the failure of the Ukrainian offensive was due to a change in Russia’s strategy, which corrected their costly mistakes from 2022. They adopted a strategy of defense in depth — meaning the aim is to delay rather than prevent Russian advances — which proved insurmountable. Ukraine was only able to advance a short distance, with a high cost in casualties and ammunition. From the point of view of the political-state leadership, Putin’s decision to disband the Wagner group and eliminate Yevgeny Prigozhin allowed him to consolidate the authority of the Kremlin and bring order to the military command. In short, in a framework in which, as analyst Lawrence Freedman says, “both sides find offensives difficult,” Russia has gained a considerable advantage, despite making little territorial progress, which it maintains thanks to the renewed capacity of its war industry.

Several “realistic” analysts already admit that this difficult situation for Ukraine seems very difficult to reverse. However, Zelenskyy is not letting up on his objective to recover all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea. The lack of results and a strategy to end the war exposed fractures on the Ukrainian side, which led to the replacement of the popular General Valery Zaluzhnyi, a move that concerns Ukraine’s imperialist allies. Zelenskyy is suffering politically, with domestic discontent growing due to war fatigue and allegations of corruption. Congress refuses to approve a bold and brutal plan to draft and train 400,000 to 500,000 new recruits to bolster the army’s decimated ranks, whose average age is 40. Zeleneskyy’s success is dependent on the continued military and economic aid from the imperialist powers, which is increasingly difficult to come by. A €50 billion EU aid package has been delayed for months because of opposition from Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán, an ally of Putin. Orbán has used his veto power to obtain further concessions from the EU, and finally gave his approval. Turkish president Erdogan did something similar in regards to delaying approval to expand NATO with the incorporation of Sweden and Finland.

The U.S., the largest source of aid to Ukraine, has not been able to pass further aid, which has been held up for months due to opposition from the Trumpist “Freedom Caucus” of the Republican Party. First, they had conditioned the $60 billion aid package for Ukraine on closing the southern border and further tightening immigration policy. Once they had gotten these concessions from Biden, they backed out of the agreement. In light of repeated failures to pass this aid, the Biden administration is opening up to the possibility of sending Ukraine the $300 billion of Russia’s reserves, which is frozen in different central banks. This move is likely illegal and politically questionable, especially by emerging powers and the “Global South,” seeing it as something similar could happen to them.

The policy of the United States and Western powers to isolate Russia through harsh economic sanctions did not have the intended results. Although the true cost of the war is yet to be seen, in the short term Russia has weathered the economic sanctions with relative success, largely because of its alliance with China and economic growth from the war. The markets Russia has lost in Europe, particularly Germany, were partly made up for by increased exports of crude oil at a discount price to “friendly” countries such as China, India, and several African countries.

Putin has just assumed the presidency of BRICS, which has expanded to new members, including Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. (Argentina withdrew because of the policies of the extreme right-wing government of Milei.) Through repression and recharged Bonapartism, he is preparing to assume his fifth presidential term, as he has eliminated Boris Nadezhdin, the candidate who threatened to unify the anti-war front, from the electoral race. His other main opponent, Aleksei Navalni, was found dead in prison under mysterious circumstances.

Most military analysts believe that the conditions are not favorable for a new Ukrainian offensive this year. And — as far as Russia’s attacks allow —it would be advisable for Ukraine to move to an “active defense” position to avoid further loss of territory and rebuild its defenses.

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The Biden administration is in a complicated position. There is increased dissatisfaction at home with the Ukraine war, along with a sector of the Republican party saying that resources are being squandered. After pushing for a Ukrainian victory, Biden is avoiding a negotiation. Currently, 18 percent of Ukrainian territory is under Russian occupation, and a negotiation that would cede this territory would be perceived as a defeat of the West by U.S. geopolitical enemies.

If last year, the most likely scenario was that of a “frozen conflict” like that of the Korean War, now the likelihood is growing that the war will continue for at least another year, alternating between stalemates and Russian offensives. As we have pointed out in other articles, Russia has been making progress on the tactical level, although at the price of increasing its dependence on China and having NATO on its borders. However, the U.S. strategy of wearing Russia down by using Ukraine as cannon fodder seems to have reached its limits. The magnitude of that attrition and its strategic significance remains to be seen.

Danger of War in the Middle East

The United States had been pushing a policy of normalization of relations between the Arab states and Israel, with the aim of isolating Iran and weakening the Palestinian national struggle. This policy was initiated by Donald Trump in 2020 with the Abraham Accords, and continued by Biden who, in the days before the surprise Hamas attack last October, had been moving forward with the “normalization” of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. But unlike Trump, Biden’s policy included the restoration of some level of diplomacy with the Iranian regime.

While we share neither the methods nor the strategy of Hamas, their action put the focus back on the historic struggle of the Palestinian people against the zionist regime, one of apartheid intensified under the successive governments of Netanyahu and his allies of the extreme religious right and settlers. Israel’s brutal massacre against the Palestinian people in Gaza, with the support of the United States and European powers, has disrupted this geopolitical scheme. It threatens to escalate into a regional war, which could ultimately lead to a war between the United States and Iran.

In fact, practically all of Iran’s allies that make up the so-called “axis of resistance” have already been involved in military actions of different magnitudes. This includes Hezbollah in Lebanon — the militias related to the Iranian regime that operate in Syria, Iraq and Jordan — and the Houthis who have been attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea, which provoked bombing raids by the United States and Great Britain in Yemen. Additionally, a skirmish between Iran and Pakistan killed about 100 people. Although this is not directly related to Israel’s bloody assault on Gaza and did not escalate, it cannot be separated from what’s happening in the wider region. The most serious incident was the attack on a U.S. base in Jordan by allies of Iran, which resulted in the death of three U.S. soldiers. The Biden administration is holding a delicate balance between not wanting to appear weak and avoiding further escalation. Therefore, the U.S. response was to attack 85 targets of Iranian-allied militias in Iraq and Syria, while taking caution to not to attack Iran directly.

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The Biden administration finds itself in an increasingly complicated situation. The U.S. is the main financial and military ally and supporter of the state of Israel. “Genocide Joe” has maintained his unconditional support for the far-right Netanyahu government and the settler and ultra-religious right parties, which openly declare their intentions to expel the Palestinian people from Gaza and the West Bank.2Despite recent posturing, even mentioning the possibility of a six-week ceasefire at the State of the Union, weapons continue to go to Israel every 36 hours. Not only is he complicit, he is an enabler of Israel’s genocide in Gaza. But at the same time, he needs to de-escalate the conflict, with the collaboration of Saudi Arabia and other allies in the Arab world, to prevent a regional war from developing, which would lead the United States to once again become directly involved with troops on the ground in the Middle East.

So far, diplomatic attempts to carry through the two-state solution have been completely unsuccessful. There is a contradiction between Biden’s interests and Netanyahu’s survival strategy. The U.S. seeks to reestablish the alliances between the Zionist state and the Arab monarchies, which is unthinkable if Netanyahu does not stop the slaughter in Gaza. Netanyahu wants to sustain the war as long as possible, since it is his only hope of retaining power and eventually, staying out of prison. When Netanyahu spoke of a possible attack on Rafah3Natanyahu has recently approved attack plans for Rafah. Egypt raised the possibility of withdrawing from the Camp David accords if such an event occurs. (Egypt, together with Qatar, is participating in indirect negotiations with Hamas for the release of hostages.) For this reason, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the situation in the Middle East is the most dangerous since 1973. 

A “Soft Landing” on Slippery Ground

The accumulation of contradictions and “extra-economic” risks seems to have fallen off the radar of the large billionaires, as the most pessimistic forecasts for the global economy have not materialized in the immediate term. In its January International Outlook Update, the IMF revised global growth modestly upward to 3.1% for 2024, mainly due to better-than-expected performance in the U.S. and China. For 2025 it forecasts growth of 3.2% (the historical average for the period 2000-2019 was 3.8%). As for global trade, it expects it to expand by 3.3% in 2024 and 3.6% in 2025, well below the historical average of 4.9%.

According to the IMF, the global economy is heading towards a “soft landing,” i.e. an exit from inflation, which soared in the post-pandemic period and as a side effect of the war in Ukraine and sanctions. The rise in interest rates — the monetarist measure adopted by central banks to lower inflation — have not resulted in a global recession, or worse, “stagflation.” However, rather than an optimistic view, it is a less pessimistic view: the expansion is slow and above all vulnerable to geopolitical events, such as the attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea by the Houthis of Yemen. Even if the Houthis’ attacks were to remain at their current level, they could disrupt supply chains and trade routes, increasing the cost of commodities.

It is important to note that behind the general average there are differences among countries. Strictly speaking, the U.S. economy is in the best shape, growing at an annualized 3.3% in the last quarter of 2023, with inflation falling from 8% in 2022 to 3.1 percent at the end of 2023 (however, still above the Fed’s 2% target). The unemployment rate remains at 3.6 percent, at near full employment levels. However, as Marxist economist Michael Roberts points out, growth is below and inflation is above pre-pandemic levels. Consumer prices in the U.S. and Europe are up 17-20 percent, explaining why the vast majority of the American working and middle-class does not perceive improvement in their personal financial situations. With the elections coming up, “Bidenomics” is not showing to be improving Biden’s record-low approval.4Furthermore, the Federal Reserve has not announced that they would not decrease interest rates until inflation moves steadily toward its two percent goal, which increases the burden of interest on household and corporate debts.

According to the Economist, there are at least three signs of concern for the future. The first is that consumers have already used up excess savings during the pandemic and many businesses expect a drop in their sales. Second is a possible decline in consumption in China. Third is a slowdown in the “manufacturing boom” that had been hinted at with the approval of the Chips Act, a powerful stimulus package of $52 billion for domestic semiconductor production, of which only a small part was actually implemented. Additionally, is the banking-financial risk posed by the expansion of business between traditional banks and the “shadow banking” sector, a sector of informal lenders such as fintechs, to which US financial institutions have already granted loans in excess of $1 trillion. These events, such as the 2023 crisis triggered by the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, sound alarm bells and expose the vulnerabilities of the banking system, in which Donald Trump weakened the already tepid regulations put into place in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis.

The European Union barely escaped recession by a few tenths of a point (an anemic growth of 0.65% is forecasted), with the exception of Germany, which recorded a 0.3% decline. The European bloc as a whole is going through a major crisis with the agricultural sector which, in the context of falling international prices, has lost competitiveness in the face of imports from Ukraine. EU regulations (Common Agricultural Policy) have also played a role, including the reduction of the diesel subsidy, which placed the cost of the so-called “green transition” mainly on small producers.5The EU recently revised the Common Agricultural policy in response to farmers’ protests.

A quarter of a century later, it is debated again on whether Germany is once again the “sick man” of Europe, or whether it is suffering from fatigue, as the government believes, and just needs a “cup of coffee.” Some factors contributing to this situation are inflation, militarism, geopolitical tensions which affect export orientation, and above all, the end of the production model based on cheap energy from Russia. The prolonged stability of the Merkel era is behind us and Germany is belatedly entering a dynamic of political crises and social conflict unprecedented in recent decades.

On another level is China, which, as Nouriel Roubini says, is on a “bumpy landing” coming from slowed growth, estimated to be below 5.2% in 2023. While the IMF upgraded its growth forecast for 2024 — from 4.2% to 4.6% — the trend is still towards economic slowdown due to a combination of factors. Some of the most immediate are the costly and prolonged bankruptcy of Evergrande, exposing the real estate and construction bubble, a sector that accounts for at least 20-25% of GDP. The stock market crash resulted in Chinese and Hong Kong markets losing $1.5 trillion in January 2024 alone, which Xi Jinping’s government is now trying to reverse by buying back shares in state-owned enterprises. A persistent trend toward deflation — the consumer price index recorded in January was the sharpest fall in 15 years — is already having a negative impact on the global economy, especially due to the reduction in demand for imports. This deflation is a symptom of structural difficulties.

In short, there is a relative consensus on the outlook of the global economy. Even Nouriel Roubini, the most “catastrophist” of bourgeois economists, recognizes that his most ominous predictions have not come true. However, he points out some “stagflationary megathreats” that overshadow the relative optimism. Among them, he mentions the possibility that the rise in interest rates (which for now remain at the levels reached in 2023) will have a delayed effect on central economies in 2024. There is also the weight of debt refinancing, which is critical in countries of the capitalist periphery, which in the case of Argentina is the most acute and other low-income countries of the so-called “Global South” being directly in default. Among the most important countries exposed to possible defaults (in 2022 there were up to 50 in this situation) are Egypt and Pakistan, who have entered into very tough structural adjustment programs with the IMF, which is already having social and political consequences. The pattern of indebtedness in the case of Pakistan, as in other Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, and above all in Africa, is characterized by the weight of loans from China in the composition of their debts, in particular for the mega infrastructure projects of the Belt and Road Initiative. Faced with the impossibility of repayment, these countries have resorted to the well-known IMF “bailout programs.”

For Michael Roberts, the outlook is even bleaker, given that outside the United States, growth in most countries will continue to slow, with recessionary trends in Europe and Latin America (in this case due to the impact of the crisis in Argentina.) Beyond the numbers, the general perception will be closer to a recession than a “soft landing.” But above all, there are extra-economic risk factors, ranging from a geopolitical shock that could increase international energy and food prices again, to political-state crises and outbreaks of class struggle.

Zombie Neoliberalism, Trade Wars, and Protectionist Tendencies

Beyond the current situation, the protectionist tendencies that have been developing in imperialist countries following the 2008 capitalist crisis, along with dissatisfaction with neoliberal hegemony and globalization, could increase in the event of a second Trump term.

Although the extent of the crisis of globalization is still a matter of debate, it is a fact that the so-called “hyperglobalization” has come to an end. Neoliberal hegemony is running out of steam, although it still persists. We see it persist in offensives put on the backs of workers in its paleolibertarian and authoritarian forms of the extreme right, as can be seen with Argentinian president Javier Milei, who absurdly proclaimed in Davos that the main enemy of the capitalist world is “collectivism.”

Since the Great Recession of 2008, globalization has been in retreat, not without contradictions, in a general context of increasing competition and trade wars between the United States and China. This reversal of neoliberal globalization was deepened by the pandemic in 2020 and by the wars and geopolitical tensions that have highlighted the vulnerability of supply chains. The most recent example is the impact of the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea on international trade in the context of Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

The number of neologisms appearing in bourgeois financial media is an expression of the difficulty of defining this new paradigm in which economics and geopolitics converge. The more optimistic analysts speak of “slowbalisation,” i.e. continuity without significant changes in globalization, but in slow motion. Those who see an irreversible crisis speak of “de-globalization,” while a majority of bourgeois analysts are inclined to have a view that is a hybrid of the two. The newest neologism is “glocalization,” that is, an intermediate between regionalization and globalization, which would be defined by the negative and could be summed up as neither globalization nor autarky (self-reliance).

In general terms, and depending on the logistical situation in each country, this reconfiguration implies ensuring shorter supply chains (nearshoring). If possible, these supply chains should be located in friendly countries (friendshoring) or far from geopolitical hotspots, which in geopolitical and economic jargon is known as “de-risking.” Additionally, it implies domestic relocation of certain manufacturing and a greater degree of state intervention than that typical of the neoliberal era. The most emblematic cases are that of the Chips Act and Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S. In various articles we have been pointing out the tension between the globalized structure of capitalism, from which large monopolies (especially U.S. companies) benefit, and protectionist tendencies. These tensions are in the context of increasingly acute technological competition, as seen in the race between the United States and China for the dominance in AI, one of the central themes of the Davos forum.

The big question is what a second Trump term would mean for the global economy and international trade. During his presidency, Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other free trade agreements, renegotiated NAFTA with Mexico and Canada, which is now USMCA. Among others, he limited the possibility for China to benefit from promotional tariffs and promoted reducing the wage gap with Mexico in the automotive industry. The most disruptive was his trade war with China, imposing a 25% tariff on imports and refocusing his attack on the technology sector (5G and other technologies for military use). Biden kept these measures virtually untouched.

The basis for this sort of “new trade order” was laid out by Robert Lighthizer, the top trade negotiator under Trump, in his recent book titled No Trade Is Free. Changing Course, Taking on China, and Helping America’s Workers. Early on in the book he unfolds the agenda of the populist right, which has a large part of its electoral base in sectors who have seen their living standards decline due to globalization. Lighthizer wants to escalate the trade war against China, in which he would begin by revoking the “permanent normal trade relations” status granted to China upon its entry into the WTO in 2001.

In this campaign, the self-proclaimed “Tarrif Man” Trump is presenting himself with a renewed protectionist program. He promises to impose a universal tariff of ten percent on all imports, which would be raised in the same proportion for countries that impose tariffs on American goods (“an eye for an eye, a tariff for a tariff,” he said). He also promises to end the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, a trade agreement launched by Biden in 2022 with 13 countries in the region, which, without proposing tariff cuts, aimed to regain leverage with China.

The strategic problem facing the United States is the need to further “decouple” its economy in respect to China, especially in critical areas. This is regardless of tactics: trade war and bilateral agreements in the case of Trump, or expanding trade agreements or partners in the case of Biden, and moments of greater or lesser trade war. This “decoupling” needs to take into account the prospect that economic, geopolitical, and eventually, military rivalries and disputes, will intensify.

Organic Crisis, Polarization, and Class Struggle

Paradoxically, 2024 will be the biggest election year in modern history, with elections in more than 60 countries. At the same time, most of these will once again reveal the profound crisis of liberal democracy, a process that has been developing at the same pace as the organic crisis trends that both imperialist and periphery countries have been experiencing for more than a decade. Perhaps the most obvious expression of the organic crisis is the U.S. election, a rematch between Joe Biden — who suffers from clear cognitive decline due to advanced age — and Donald Trump — who is dealing with a number of legal cases, including one regarding his role on January 6, 2021.

We have seen the limits of the “neoliberal consensus,” that is, the alternation in government of the conservative and social democratic variants of what Tariq Ali calls the “extreme centre.” This is within the context of profound political and social polarization, dividing the ruling classes and leading to the crisis of traditional bourgeois parties and the so-called “populist moment,” both on the left (Sandersism, Podemos, and Syriza) and on the far right, such as the Trump presidency, with strong Bonapartist tendencies. These bonapartist tendencies have different expressions, such as the strengthening of executive power, and the growing weight of the judiciary (as seen with the Lava Jato in Brazil), or the role of the Supreme Court in the U.S., whose conservative majority is dismantling democratic rights in regards to reproductive rights, and affirmative action, among others. 

In this conjuncture, the rise of the far right is the main phenomenon, which emerged electorally to channel the discontent of a sector of the masses. It expresses — indirectly with multiple contradictions –- the authoritarian Caesarist attempts of the bourgeoisie to bring the balance of forces back in its favor and resolve the organic crisis. The need for a sort of “Caesarism” is publicly debated by the intellectuals of the Trumpist right. The right-wing Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 openly proposes the need to “institutionalize Trumpism,” which means strengthening the executive branch, dismantling federal agencies, and forming a purely conservative state bureaucracy. This is what some in the bourgeois liberal media are referring to when they speak of Trump establishing a (civilian) “dictatorship.”

As Frédéric Lordon states in an interesting article, the dynamic is one of the far right advancing over the traditional right, which is a general trend with differences between countries. Lordon’s article about the vote on the harsh immigration law in France, showing how Macron adapted the program of far-right Marine Le Pen. This has also been seen in Argentina with the far-right libertarian La Libertad Avanza government integrating the Propuesta Republicana (PRO), a more traditional right-wing party. That said, it is necessary to specify the scope of the phenomenon and its significance for perspectives of class struggle. As shown by the beginning of Javier Milei’s government in Argentina (so far the only figure of the extreme paleolibertarian right to come to power), these are weak and unstable Bonapartist attempts. Especially since they still have the arduous and risky task of changing the balance of forces, that is, defeating the working class and the popular sectors. 

While there is an advance of the Far Right, there is also a tendency toward class struggle among important sectors of workers, youth, and the masses. We are witnessing the third wave of class struggle since the 2008 crisis. The first culminated in the Arab Spring of 2011, the “indignados” in the Spanish State and the struggle in Greece against the structural adjustment (which ended with the betrayal of Syriza in the government.) The second, more radicalized and militant, erupted with the yellow vests in France, and continued with the uprising in Chile in October 2019, then in Ecuador, and the struggle against the coup d’état in Bolivia, which was interrupted by the pandemic. In these years, large movements such as the women’s movement, anti-racist movements, and youth environmentalist movements have developed at the international level, which pose strategic debates of a different order. We have boldly intervened in these from the organizations that make up the FT-CI. The far right is using these movements as a target/scapegoat from which to polarize and push “culture wars,” while “progressive” sectors, such as the U.S. Democratic Party, have sought to institutionalize them.

The consequences of the war in Ukraine and the pandemic gave rise to this third wave that clearly has more of a working-class component than previous ones. This is shown by strikes and unionization efforts in the United States and other imperialist countries, such as the wave of strikes in Great Britain and France. The most advanced was the struggle against the pension reform in France in 2023, in which Révolution Permanente boldly intervened promoting the Network for the General Strike, together with sectors of the workers’ vanguard, youth and other sectors. This widespread and massive process of class struggle could not triumph because of the conciliatory policies of trade union leaderships that refused to organize a general strike, which allowed Macron to overcome the crisis and advance with Bonapartist measures. The depth of this process can be seen in the fact that over the last few years, many sectors of workers and the masses have participated.

In the last few months, agricultural producers have mobilized in several European countries: Germany, France, Poland, and the Spanish State. However, this is with more contradictions because in some cases, bourgeois sectors have also intervened. Additionally, in Germany, tens of thousands are mobilizing against the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and its plans for mass deportation of immigrants.

The most dynamic example is the emergence of a massive movement against Israel’s genocide in Gaza and in solidarity with the Palestinian people, mainly in imperialist countries, with anti-imperialist politics not seen since the movement against the Vietnam War. These imperialist regimes are accomplices to Israel’s genocide and cynically decry these movements as “antisemitic.” In spite of state repression, tens of thousands continue to mobilize in major cities demanding an end to the genocide. The magnitude of the massacre against the Palestinian people and the large mobilizations have most likely influenced to some degree the decision of the International Court of Justice to uphold the genocide complaint filed by South Africa against Israel, an unprecedented event that increases disapproval and isolation of the Zionist state and its allies, starting with the United States and “Genocide Joe” Biden.

Although in the periphery, Argentina will be central globally in the coming period. The new Milei government is valuable for the international far right, as was seen in the attendance of its leaders — the Bolsonaro clan, Santiago Abascal of Vox, José Antonio Kast of Chile and Víctor Orbán, among others — to Milei’s inauguration last December. This is also seen in Milei’s messianic trip to Israel and his invitation to far-right forums such as the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C. At the same time, it is also shaping up as a great “laboratory of class struggle,” where the PTS, as we have been discussing, is called to play a key role, to fight for the workers’ united front, self-organization and a general strike that opens the perspective of the struggle for workers’ power.

Ultimately, as Trotsky put it, reviving an apt conclusion drawn by Lenin at the beginning of World War I: “if a few revolutions do not triumph, other wars will come.”

Originally Published in Spanish on February 24 on La Izquierda Diario

Translation by Molly Rozensweig

Notes

Notes
1 Carlos Menem, president of Argentina from 1989 to 1999, defined his foreign policy towards the United States as “carnal relations.” — trans.
2 Despite recent posturing, even mentioning the possibility of a six-week ceasefire at the State of the Union, weapons continue to go to Israel every 36 hours.
3 Natanyahu has recently approved attack plans for Rafah.
4 Furthermore, the Federal Reserve has not announced that they would not decrease interest rates until inflation moves steadily toward its two percent goal, which increases the burden of interest on household and corporate debts.
5 The EU recently revised the Common Agricultural policy in response to farmers’ protests.
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Claudia Cinatti

Claudia is an editor of our sister site La Izquierda Diario and a leading member of the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS) in Argentina.

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