The crisis of the capitalist economic system continues to grow, and the imposition of limited tariffs on steel imports etc. by the United States is just another symptom of this deepening crisis.
The reaction of the liberal establishment in the European Union shows clearly its weakness in relation to the dominant economic, military and political role of the United States.
Workers have been told that our world is now governed by a “rules-based system”; that is why we needed to have TTIP and CETA, to cement this system. As the crisis deepens, the fair-weather strategy of free trade is coming under pressure, and states revert to competitive economic measures, such as protective tariffs.
It’s not all due to an erratic Trump, however erratic he may be. The tension between the EU and the United States is palpable, and the alliance is under strain.
The action of Trump was to tear up the rulebook because it does not suit the interests of a significant sector of American capital. We have been led to believe for decades in globalisation, neo-liberalism, “rules-based systems”; and much of the liberal left has bought in to this language and strategy, unable to see what it really is: a strategy for controlling global markets and resources, for protecting the profits of transnational corporations.
The United States is still the global imperial power—economically, militarily, and thereby politically. The EU’s imposition of tariffs on a few motorbikes is more a reflection of its own weakness. Its response for some time has been to call for greater centralisation and concentration of power within the EU institutions, as it needs to be able to assert itself and defend and expand its interests and even challenge the global strategy of the United States. Hence the need to further centralise decision-making on economic and fiscal strategy.
It also explains the growing militarisation of the EU itself, and the push for greater national spending on armaments, building up the independent EU military structures and capacity.
The present struggle is not due to the actions of an eccentric individual but rather to real economic forces that are at play, which express themselves in the tariff war. Workers need to remember that the United States and the EU have no problems imposing trade and other restrictions against countries on which they wish to force political and economic regime change and compliance, such as Russia, Cuba, and Venezuela. Tariffs are simply economic weapons for advancing strategic goals.
The steady growth of China, economically and politically, presents great challenges to the western imperial powers. The present tensions reflect the struggle for profitability and monopolisation. This can only lead to greater global competition between the two main imperial power blocs, the United States and the European Union, over control and influence on global territory and resources.
Nothing happens under capitalism that is not driven by profit and the accumulation and concentration of wealth.
At the time of the abolition of the Soviet Union, Marxist theory would have expected heightened rivalry and competition between the imperial countries and blocs. The existential necessity of opposing socialism forced the imperial powers to put aside their own intra-imperial divisions and competition in order to present a united front against the Soviet Union. It is interesting, and a little surprising, that this unity has lasted almost thirty years, since 1991; but it may finally be unravelling under the pressure of continuous economic crisis and stagnation.
If so, this will create a more dangerous world, with increased open competition between blocs based round the United States, the European Union, Russia, and China. In time an African bloc could also emerge as a power—though the destruction wrought by Western imperialism is so great that any such development seems a long way off.
The wars in the Middle East and North Africa show that economic competition and the pursuit of spheres of influence have the potential to lead to new horrors and catastrophes for the peoples of the world.
The EU is faced with what it calls a sea of “illegal economic migrants”; this in turn has provoked a reaction among a significant section of workers within the EU member-states.
Merkel wanted to retain open borders and for all migrants to be allowed into the EU. This is what German and other monopoly interests require: they need a constant flow of cheap labour.
Germany, like other EU member-states, faces a long-term and significant problem regarding population growth or stagnation. The general trend is towards a declining birth rate among indigenous populations, and migrants are needed to fill certain areas of economic activity.
This has created internal economic pressures and facilitated a race to the bottom within the EU itself; this in turn has provoked a political and cultural reaction in EU countries, which is the breeding-ground for racist and neo-fascist forces, the reserve army of capital.
The EU is exploiting these forces for its own ends and as a pretext for a further concentration of power, while workers throughout the EU are experiencing continuing attacks by national governments—directed by and operating within EU treaty obligations—on the social and economic gains made by them over many decades. Their eyes have been refocused to see migrants as the problem, not the system itself. Some have indeed begun to see the EU, or aspects of the EU, as the source of their problems, while others remain diverted from that target.
The EU has been very effective in this strategy of misdirecting working people and equally in making use of the situation of thousands of people fleeing wars inflicted upon them by the United States and the EU itself, and their allies, throughout the Middle East.
So far they have successfully disguised the effect of EU policies imposed on the countries and peoples of Africa through the “European partnership agreements.”
In the United States, workers only see illegal economic migrants from Mexico and Central America—not the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) both on American workers and on the workers, the peasants and the poor south of the border.
Nor do they recognise the role being played by American monopolies, which have shifted production to Mexico, establishing factories run on slave wages and dreadful and dangerous working conditions, while the forces of imperialism get away scot-free.
If we look at the consequences of EU trading practices for Africa, the following picture emerges. Africa is rich in raw materials: gold, platinum, diamonds, uranium, tantalite, copper, oil, natural gas, precious woods, cocoa, coffee, and many others.
These resources were once directly controlled and exploited by the old European colonial powers, through brutal repression; today that dependence relationship is through European neo-colonialism, in collaboration with the African elite in power at the local level.
They have constructed a low-cost local work force; and the EU controls both the internal markets of African countries and their international markets, creating different layers and levels of dependence.
The EU demands open access for its goods and services, while restructuring the local economy, both manufacturing and agriculture, to make both subservient to the needs of the EU.
It is estimated that about a hundred companies listed on the London Stock Exchange—British and others—exploit the mineral resources of thirty-seven sub-Saharan African countries, with a value of more than $1,000 billion.
France controls the monetary system of fourteen African ex-colonies by means of the the CFA franc (originally the initials for the “French African Colonies,” now recycled as the “African Financial Community”).
To preserve parity with the euro, these fourteen African countries are obliged to pay the French treasury half their monetary reserves.
In Côte d’Ivoire, French companies control the greater part of the commercialisation of cocoa, of which the country is the world’s main producer; the small local producers are left with less than 5 per cent of the value of the end product, thereby forcing many to live in dire poverty.
EU aid accounts for more than half its global aid.
€21 billion in development aid was provided to Africa in 2016 by the EU and its member-states.
- EU companies in 2015 had invested €32 billion in Africa.
- €3.35 billion was allocated to the European Fund for Sustainable Development on the African continent.
- Seven EU civilian and military missions are operating in sub-Saharan Africa.
The western media (including the Irish media), and some aid organisations, ignore the real effect of neo-colonialism on the people of Africa. African countries are presented as corrupt (many are, but who corrupts them, and who benefits?) or are economically mismanaged and exist purely on foreign hand-outs.
The real picture is that African countries in fact pay foreign countries a net annual forfeit of about $58 billion.
The social consequences are devastating.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where the population is greater than 1 billion people, of whom 60 per cent are children and young people up to the age of twenty-four, about two-thirds of the people live in poverty; of these, about 40 per cent—approximately 400 million people—live in conditions of extreme poverty.
This is the real existing EU policy in relation to Africa—not the slick PR peddled by Brussels and swallowed by liberals and much of the left.
The flow of people from the south is the direct result of two interconnected factors: wars and economic neo-colonialism. The numerous wars now raging are the result of imperialism’s seeking of hegemony in resources, territory, and people.
Where they have secured a politically compliant national ruling elite in Africa they have used trade to batter down local barriers, taking control and dominating local economies and, most importantly, natural resources.
The local elite cream off some of the largesse and stick it in Swiss bank accounts, thereby making it available for further speculation by global finance houses, or they engage in property speculation in London, Paris, and elsewhere.
The millions of people displaced as a direct result of the policies and practices of imperialism in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are overwhelmingly concentrated within their own countries or neighbouring ones. The minority who travel to the West in search of a safer and better life for themselves and their children are treated with contempt and further cruelty. The message is: “You are not wanted here.” The EU engages in harsh exclusionary practices that its own liberal elite would denounce as racist, populist and nativist if they were carried out by the Trump regime.
Imagine if the imperialist government in Washington paid billions of dollars to Mexico to stop the flow of migrants; proposed setting up detention centres for migrants in Central American countries, south of their borders; pushed back boats attempting to land in the Gulf of Mexico; and verbally and legally attacked NGOs assisting migrants. (Leo Varadkar joined EU leaders and governments in this at the end of June.) Hypocrisy and double standards have never given the European powers any pause for thought.
The seeming contradiction between the need of ageing EU countries for immigrant labour and their anti-immigrant rhetoric and practices can be explained by the combination of policies the imperialist EU countries are pursuing: economic exploitation of Africa and other countries through the imposition of unfair trade and investment terms; wars in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia for influence, hegemony, and control; the scapegoating of immigrants to cover their domestic economic and “austerity” policies; the downward pressure on wages that immigrant labour exerts; and a lingering post-colonial disdain for the “inferior” peoples and races of the global South, which leads to a welcome only for the “right” kind of immigrant. Any contradiction will almost certainly be resolved in the long run by economic necessity.
Imperialism, monopoly capitalism, exports capital in search of investment opportunity and profit wherever it can find it. This is the hard economic driving factor behind all the policy and practices of the imperial powers. Until we confront and defeat imperialism at home it will be the working class of Europe, America and elsewhere, and the ordinary people of the world, who will suffer the consequences of the appropriation and accumulation of wealth by monopoly capital.
Western governments and global monopolies are in a win-win situation, while the people of Africa are trapped in poverty. Where else is there for many of them to go, other than travel north to Europe, because they know that is where the stolen wealth of their country has been shipped to?
The boats making the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea carrying desperate people are going in the wrong direction, and filled with the wrong people. It’s the rich and powerful who need to be put on the boats and made to scrape a living working long hours on low wages.
Until workers realise this, nothing will change.