Harry Glass reviews “The Politics of Empire: Globalisation in Crisis”, Alan Freeman and Boris Kagarlitsky eds Pluto 2004.
Alan Freeman, one of the book’s editors, is a bag carrier for Mayor Livingstone, associated with Socialist Action and the recent ESF. The book reflects these politics. Beneath its urbane pessimism, it is a manifesto for second-camp “socialism” that abandons the central role of the working class.
The editors define globalisation as a distinctive historical era between 1980 until 2003. That regime has now broken down, to be replaced by an age similar to classical imperialism (1880-1914). As they put it: “Globalisation, as it has existed for the past 23 years, is self-destructing. It has given birth to a new age: of protectionism, rivalry and war.”
But the evidence for this is noticeably thin. They point to differences over the Iraq war as evidence of a split between the US and Europe. Enmities between the imperialist powers exist of course — but their rivalries are not like the divisions that led to the First World War.
They cite Argentina as an example of how relations between what they call the “dominant” and the “dominated” countries have broken down. Now the Kirchner government might represent its own national capital by rescheduling its debts with the IMF — but it is still essentially a rightist bourgeois government. It is not an “anti-imperialist” force challenging the world order. It is hostile to the occupied factories, the unemployed movement and to socialists in Argentina.
The editors cram existing reality into what they call the “classical anti-imperialist tradition” — a parody of the views developed by Lenin and others nearly a century ago. This does no service either to the Marxist tradition or the working class today.
Their foreboding about globalisation is really a device to rationalise their anti-working class political strategy. Freeman spells this out explicitly in an interview in Labour Left Briefing in November: “If the working class globally was a force for defeating imperialism, it would have done so. But non-working class movements have meanwhile inflicted important defeats on imperialism. This has to inform strategy.”
For the advanced capitalist states, the book promotes the kind of populism found in the Stop the War Coalition. For example the chapter by Kate Hudson justifies STW’s silence on Saddam and the Kurds, and its alliance with the MAB fundamentalists.
For the rest of the world, the politics of nationalism dominate. The editors argue: “In the Third World social advance and national sovereignty are indissolubly linked…. It is imperative for such movements that their state itself should be a part of the resistance…. Working class movements of the Third World have to defend the sovereignty of their state.”
And the book peddles a peculiar soft Stalinism, lamenting the collapse of the USSR and claiming that China and Cuba represent an alternative. Another contributor, Patrick Bond, sums up the political perspective, suggesting a “global popular front against the United States”.
The book ignores the working class, as the subject of exploitation in most states, both North and South. The relative social weight of the working class in almost every country of the world is greater now than it was a century ago, even if the level of organisation and political consciousness is lower in places. Yet the idea that workers of the world are the crucial force against the empire of capital is absent from this book.