Two trends in world politics

Dilma election poster
Dilma election poster

By Jane West

Dilma election poster

Photo WavesDream

The recent results of the elections in Brazil and the USA highlight two divergent trends in world politics. Trends in the countries dominated by imperialism continue to go to or remain on the left. Since the outbreak of the international financial crisis political trends within the imperialist countries have moved to the right.

In the ‘developing’ world the overall trend remains on the left, not just electorally, but in the willingness to stand up to the demands of imperialism on a number of fronts. The victory for Dilma Rousseff in the second round of the Brazilian elections compounded the defeat for the right in the elections to the Brazilian Congress and State legislatures. In the latter elections the PT and its coalition partners increased their representation, including taking firm control of the Senate for the first time. Within the coalition the electoral advance was predominantly for the PT and the left of the coalition, with the more centre left partners doing less well or falling back.

In Latin America, the Brazilian electoral outcome follows the success for Evo Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism in the Bolivian regional elections in April this year and stablisation of support for a left of centre coalition in Argentina. In Venezuela, the Chavista leadership of the revolution met a setback in the September legislative elections, but a more coherent economic policy, learning from its ties with China, lack of which lay behind this setback, can turn this around. Overall, despite the coup overthrowing Zelaya in Honduras, the US has not been able to overturn the dominance of the left in the region.

In the Middle East, Israel has suffered from an increasing political isolation primarily driven by the heroic resistance of the Palestinians of Gaza and the unpopularity internationally of Israel’s 2008/09 war on Gaza. Of particular importance is the clear break of Turkey from its long-term alliance with Israel. This reached a flashpoint in Israel’s assault on the aid to Gaza flotilla earlier this year. The condemnation of the Israeli attack on the flotilla meant Egypt had little choice about letting the most recent aid convoy through to Gaza. The Abbas leadership of the PLO will be further undermined by the current round of ‘peace talks’ with an Israeli leadership which has no intention of making any meaningful concession to the Palestinians. This will be a prolonged struggle but the recent political shifts are against Israel. Developments in Turkey also have consequences for the US attempt to confront Iran.

In Asia, China has continued to resist US demands that it undertake economic suicide via a sharp revaluation of its currency. Since allowing ‘flexibility’ in China’s exchange rate with the dollar earlier this year the RMB has moved up only marginally. China’s economic growth in the 3rd quarter of 2010 was 9.6%, the fastest of any major economy in the world and far outstripping the US.

China’s economic growth is not only benefitting the Chinese people but is beginning to have a real impact in the semi-colonial world as trade and economic cooperation with China gives a practical economic alternative to subordination to the US – something the USSR was never able to offer. China’s investment in Africa has helped lift the continent out of its long economic depression and China has become the number one trading partner of Brazil and other semi-colonial countries. South African president Zuma recently made an extended trip to China and is clearly making alliance with China a key part of South Africa’s economic development.

Echoing points made by Zuma himself during the trade mission to China in August, South African Trade Minister Rob Davies told The Financial Times, for example, that China’s expanding presence in Africa ‘can only be a good thing’ because it will increase competition for resources and influence in the continent. ‘We don’t have to sign on the dotted line whatever is shoved under our noses any longer,’ he told the FT, ‘We now have alternatives and that’s to our benefit.’

US attempts to encircle China politically and militarily were given a boost earlier in the year with clear attempts by Russia to move closer to the West, reflected in the ‘deal’ which delivered Russian support for new sanctions on Iran, in return for changes in US ‘missile defence’ plans in Eastern Europe. This helped pressure China into supporting the Iran sanctions’ motion at the UN.

But on other issues closer to home, China has flexed its muscles in standing up to the US – roundly rejecting the US’s proposal to become a ‘neutral’ 3rd party mediator in China’s disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu islands, and US claim that the South China Sea was somehow in a US’s sphere of ‘leadership’ in Asia.

In short in the semi-colonial countries, while there have been individual defeats, at present the tide continues to be at least moderately to the left.

Trends within the imperialist countries are however running in the opposite direction. Very serious resistance has been waged by the French working class to the attacks on the welfare state in that country. Resistance continues in Greece. But these are the exceptions.

The most evident outcome of this is the US mid-term congressional elections, which were a major success for the right. But these follow on from the electoral successes of the right in the UK and Germany. In Japan a new even more hawkish Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) is clearly preparing its return to power.

In the US the initial response to the financial crisis saw a progressive outcome and shift to the left, reflected in the high level of mobilisation around Obama’s election campaign. But the failure of the Obama presidency to take effective measures on the economic crisis, more precisely its supine capitulation to Wall Street on all issues except health care, has thrown the US population back to the right.

In foreign policy the failure to take decisive steps to pull out of Afghanistan, continuing sabre-rattling against Iran, passivity in the face of Israeli aggression coupled with an incapacity to break out of the deadlock in US politics that opposes all state intervention in the economy, means Obama’s first two years have shown essential continuity with the Bush presidency. In short Obama has delivered ‘guns but no butter’. Under those circumstances the right finds itself newly invigorated only two years after its polices lead to foreign policy disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan and the greatest crisis of the US economy since the 1930s.

Failing to effectively campaign for support for an investment boost led by the state, the US administration has had to fall back on a further round of monetary measures with a second quantitative easing (QE2). This will have little effect on the US economy, although it will help create monetary problems in a whole series of semi-colonial economies due to the outflow of ‘hot money’. The only beneficial effect of this is that it is shifting the focus, even of US allies, away from the alleged ‘undervalued RMB’ to the real issue of the weakness of the US economy and economic chaos which US monetary policy threatens to create in various areas of the world economy.

The mid-terms have deepened the problems for Obama, and strengthened the tendencies in US politics which seek to deepen the attacks on the working class, while seeking to make up for the US’s declining economic clout by lashing out on the military front. Alongside this has been the rise of unpleasant racist currents of a type that have become familiar in European politics.

Given the continued weight and gradual further development of the left in the semi-colonial world, and the shift to the right inside the imperialist countries, intensified confrontations between imperialism and the population of the semi-colonial countries is inevitable in the coming years. However, unlike the two decades after the Second World War, from 1945-1968, which saw a rise of struggle in the colonial countries accompanied by prosperity in the imperialist states this time progressive struggles in the colonial world are going to be accompanied by harsh austerity within the imperialist states.

Within the imperialist countries the chief duty of socialists, therefore, is to seek to block new aggressive moves of imperialism aimed against the semi-colonial countries while combining this with the struggles against capitalist ‘austerity’ measures, and right wing currents flowing from them.