First published: October 1998
The post-1989 triumphalism of the international imperialist system suffered two shuddering blows at the end of August. First, on the economic plane, it became clear that all of the efforts to contain the 1929-scale slump which has afflicted east Asia since last summer have failed – its fall-out is progressively extending its effects to the entire world economy. Second, the chain of the international capitalist economy broke at its weakest link – Russia – and this posed the most serious political challenge to imperialism since 1989, namely, the realistic possibility that the capitalist course imposed on that country since the end of 1991 might be over-turned. The shudder of doubt which passed through the world of capital manifested itself in stock market prices, innumerable articles on the ‘backlash against the free market’, through to the farcical powerlessness of the Clinton/Yeltsin summit.
The driving force of this crisis was the realisation that the east Asian economic crisis had not been confined to that region. But its political punch was delivered by the palpable risk that capitalism could yet be overturned in a country, Russia, whose nuclear weapons rule out the direct Western military intervention which would otherwise be used in such circumstances. The latter political reality was reinforced by the inevitability of rising social and political opposition to imperialism’s prescriptions for east Asia.