Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

8. A polycentric world favourable to development: a possibility?

The scope and stakes of the global crisis
Conservative forces' offensive
The difficulties of forecasting
The real options for the peoples of the West
Options for socialist societies and east-west relations
The genuine long-term option, transnationalization or a polycentric world and broad autocentric regions
Conclusion: a crisis of transnationalization, ideology and development theory

Like it or not. Africa's development, like that of other Third World regions sensitive to its peoples, will depend in great measure on the economic, political and cultural evolution of the world system. Accordingly as East-West and North-South relations are favourable or unfavourable (the variation depends on internal evolutions in West, East and South) the chances for such development will be the greater or the lesser and the difficulties more or less surmountable.

The current overall crisis of the world economic and political system is such as to provoke an immediate response of gloom. But beyond the short term, is there not a challenge to be conquered by humankind with a resolute commitment to a polycentric world, more conducive to peace and progress for all peoples? These are some of the issues we shall tackle in this closing chapter.

The scope and stakes of the global crisis

For more than 15 years the world economic system has been in an enduring structural crisis quite different from a conjunctural 'recession' in a phase of expansion.' This is a world crisis, marked by the collapse of growth in productive investment, a notable fall in profitability (very unequally distributed in sectors and companies), persistent disorder in international economic relations.

Without reopening the debate on 'long cycles' in capitalist expansion, we stats from the view that any crisis in the capitalist system is an expression of a malfunctioning of the law of value under the effects of class and national struggles in the broad sense. It is expressed by imbalances that make realization of the value impossible and consequently cause a fall in the rate of profit. This general proposition is not enough to describe a particular crisis at a given state of the system's evolution. In fact, for example, in the 19th century, when the law of value was still operating mainly on the basis of national contexts, the crisis was national, although it could be communicated from the hegemonic centre of the time (Great Britain) to other countries. If nowadays the law of value operates throughout the world system, the crisis must be grasped at a similar level, that is, as an expression of the impossibility of ensuring world circulation of capital and world realization of value. The current crisis is, therefore, most apparent in the field of world relations; from an examination of the latter it may be possible to identify what is really at stake in the crisis and what the outcomes may be.

North-South relations and the conflicts around them constitute the central axis of the current crisis. Why?

There are various explanations for the crisis. Is it a matter of deficient demand? Is it, on the contrary, a fall in the rate of profit due to loss of flexibility in the system stemming precisely from the stiffening of the system in the previous period of prosperity? The crisis of 1930 came after a series of defeats of the working classes in the West - when the Russian Revolution did not spread throughout Europe. In these circumstances, the redistribution of income through the Keynesian policies of the 1930s might have been a solution to the crisis. By contrast, our crisis comes after a long period of full employment, the rule of the welfare state, with wages rising along with the rate of labour productivity. Today's deficient demand is essentially deficient demand in the peripheries by virtue of the super-exploitation from which their workers suffer. In other words, only a redistribution of income at the international level, in favour of the South, would permit a fresh start for the world. The obvious question is 'under whose aegis' will this reconversion of the international division of labour be carried out? Will it take the form of redeployment of the capital of the US and European imperialist monopolies? Or will it rather be carried out for the benefit of the peoples of the South under the direction of national powers with popular backing?

But it is also a crisis for US hegemony, whose decline has begun' since post-war expansion has restored to Europe and Japan a competitiveness they lost in the course of the Second World War. Will Europe, in these circumstances, revert to being an autonomous imperialist force in regard to the United States? A close look at this highly complex issue will shed light on the ambiguities of Europe's relations with the Third World, the United States and the USSR.

The crisis is a normal consequence of the changes in economic and political relations of force accumulated in the growth of the 1945-70 period. The main changes are to be found along the 40th parallel and affect: (i) intra-West economic relations, marked by the end of US hegemony and the emergence on the one hand of Japan and of Europe (Germany in particular) on the other as partners that would henceforth be competitive or even capable of taking over from the United States some at least of its dominant positions; (ii) West-East military relations, marked by equality of the two superpowers from 1960; and (iii) West-East-China political relations, marked by the emergence of China as an autonomous nation able to subject its international strategy to the imperatives of its development options. By contrast North-South relations were only marginally affected: the Third World, as a victim of extraverted development pursued and intensified in the 1945-1970 period, joined the crisis as a weak partner who suffered its full effects.

Our comment that North-South relations constitute the central axis of the crisis does not in any way imply a simplification leaving out other aspects of the crisis: intra-West competition, the crisis of Fordism as a mode of exploitation of industrial labour, the crisis of the welfare state, the articulation of the crisis with the East-West conflict, the Atlantic pact and the crisis of United States hegemony, and so on. It merely implies that these various aspects of the crisis are deliberately treated in relation to what is essentially at stake in the light of the worldwide spread of value.

The prevailing analyses on this range of questions are particularly arid. They focus on various aspects of the crisis of capitalism in the West (crisis in labour organization, contradictory prospects of the new technology, intra-West competition, among others) as if this were of the essence, and the (peripheral) South and (socialist) East mere spectators condemned to adjust to the demands of the West. The evidently underlying hypothesis is that the backward East and South are condemned to further integration in the world systems as their sole lifebelt. The opposite is true: the West is stable despite the crisis, while qualitative change is occurring elsewhere, in the East and South.

It is a crisis of the capitalist system inasmuch as the world system is in effect largely governed by the fundamental rules of this mode of production. But the crisis also affects the countries of the East (usually described as socialist, with all the reservations we have as to this description) inasmuch as they participate in the world system (through commercial and technological exchanges and capital borrowings). But these countries also suffer another crisis, peculiar to them: the difficulty of moving from extensive accumulation to intensive accumulation. This crisis for the regime has, of course, obvious political implications.

The current crisis, like any deep crisis, is manifest in 'ungovernability of the system'. This is identifiable at three levels by: (i) the resistance of the peoples at the periphery to the demands of the logic of the transnationals; (ii) resistance of the working classes at the centre (rejection of Fordism) and the resistance of the peoples at the centre to the lifestyle (inter-class movements); (iii) the conflict between the strategies of worldwide capital and the national policies of states. In the absence of hegemony (that of the United States is in decline) to play the role of a world state, the national states have less and less hold on the strategies of capital ('You nationalize, we internationalize', it might be put). The crisis is a global challenge for the forces of progress. Will the latter be able to devise a credible and articulate programme, susceptible of effective implementation and offering an alternative to the policies of the capital offensive whose aim is to exploit the weakness of the worker and popular forces, to impose a global, national and worldwide, restructuring governed by the only criterion capitalism knows: financial profitability of investment?

They are ill-prepared. For the general economic upsurge of the quarter of a century after the Second World War encouraged many illusions. In the West, the Keynesian remedy was believed to have shown a definitive solution to the problem of crises and unemployment. It was thought that an era of eternal prosperity and definitive control over events had begun. In the so-called socialist model, a formula was believed to have been found for even stronger growth that allowed Khruschev to declare triumphantly that by 1980 the USSR would have caught up with the United States in all areas. In the Afro-Asian Third World the national liberation movement that had seized political independence also had its share of cures that with the appropriate mix of capitalist and socialist ingredients would, it was thought, make it possible to overcome 'underdevelopment' within 'interdependence'. In Latin America, the thesis of 'modernization' (known as desarrollismo) played the same role. It was, therefore, the belief that the world economic order could gradually be changed in favour of the Third World.

Undoubtedly the real performance of the 'greet prosperity' was more modest than is generally supposed: alongside the 'miraculous' growth of the European periphery and Japan came the British decline, while the ideological malaise of the consumer society was taking shape: the denunciation of Stalinism was not followed by the expected leap forward; in the Third World the social effects accompanying the development in question were often tragic (increasing inequality of income distribution, rural and urban marginalization, to name but a few). The rediscovery of the 'external limits' of growth (the planet's limited resources) was also a reminder of the fragility of the optimistic hopes of the 1950s and 1960s.

The global crisis opening in the 1970s should have put a complete stop to such illusions. But we are asked if the crisis offers a new chance (that of reassessing the dominant post-war thinking) or is a further constraint. The disarray follows the fact that the illusions have not yet been swept away. In the West, the left has largely shared in the consensus based on unlimited growth and what the consensus assumes in the international order underlying the growth. In the countries of the East the ice of dogmatism has been broken, but it has to be observed that progress in the liberation of thought and deed are slow. In the Third World, the 'recompradorization' underway on the ruins of the radical nationalism of Bandung tends more to bring nostalgic regrets for the past - if it does not unleash new illusions of obsolete culturalism (in the form of religious and other 'fundamentalisms') - than to move on in the critique of the limitations and weaknesses of that past.

Conservative forces' offensive

The logic of the immediate conservative response to the crisis entails: (i) submission through the compradorization of the South and crystallization of a Northern bloc against the South: (ii) grinding down the labour movement at the centre through unemployment and the inter-class movements through inflation: (iii) surrender to the US counter-attack aimed at re-establishing its hegemony whose decline was initiated by the very fact of European and Japanese advance.

a) The offensive on the South is at the heart of the conflicts opened up by the crisis.

The relatively favourable conditions flowing from the worldwide expansion of capitalism in the preceding phase (1945-70) had sometimes allowed the Third World bourgeoisies to push the imperialist system into making concessions. The radical wing of these bourgeoisies, emerging from a powerful national liberation movement with a popular element, had founded and legitimized its national leadership through social (mainly agrarian) reforms, the development of a public sector and the implementation of a policy of speedy industrialization. An alliance with the Soviet Union sometimes contributed to broadening the space for manoeuvre of these new bourgeoisies. But these national policies, by virtue of their class base, internal alliances and ideologies, never considered 'de-linking' from the international division of labour or a 'popular strategy'.

These limitations are the source of the fragility of these attempts, a fragility revealed by the crisis in economic terms (foreign deficits and indebtedness) and political terms (disaffection of popular support). The current phase of the crisis provides favourable conditions to destroy the 'impossible" aspirations of the bourgeoisies of the South and to force them to capitulate. Everything possible is done for the purpose: financial aggression (through the IMF and the Club of Ten), economic aggression (shown in the rejection of the claims of the NIEO), and even military aggression (Zionist expansion, South African destabilization exercises' end so on). The West has so far lined up behind the United States, despite a few contrary statements here and there. The global attack on the South would, if successful, end up 'recompradorizing' the bourgeoisies of the South and making their further growth part of the strict logic of the transnationalization strategies of monopoly capital.

This vast movement of flow and reflow in the national plan in the South is evidence that national liberation is still on the agenda, that it cannot be achieved by the bourgeoisie at the periphery, that a popular alliance here is the only way to overcome social contradictions that are only aggravated by the development of capitalism, that a national and popular objective entails 'delinking' and that this may begin a 'socialist transition'. The least that can be said is that this necessary evolution is an aspect of the problematic of socialism and the only effective aspect as the option for an 'alternative' national and world development has not been initiated in the developed centres of the system.

In the short term the offensive for recompradorization is gaining ground. But so is the response, in the initial form of violent popular rejection (for example: Iran. Nicaragua. El Salvador. Ethiopia, Ghana). Can this 'populist' response mobilized around an ideology of rejection (Islam for example) go further and allow the crystallization of a new national and popular stage? It is, of course, an open question. The answer will in part depend on the answer to another significant question: can external forces (in Europe for example) break away from capital's offensive against the South, play the 'non-alignmentt game (of real and equal opposition to the two superpowers) and support a national and popular outcome for the South?

If we put the attack on the South at the head of what is at stake in the crisis, it is because it can readily be seen that the Western bloc has been reconstituted on this basis. The alignment behind the United States has provisionally outweighed the potential conflicts between the Western partners (United States. Europe, Japan) just as it has blocked the way to peaceful settlement of East-West disputes.

b) In the developed capitalist countries, the offensive of capital is built on three principles: (i) re-establishment of a pool of unemployed permitting industrial restructuring at the expense of the weakened and divided working class (steady jobs and unskilled labour, women, youth and immigrants, and so on); (ii) priority for options reinforcing international competitiveness, heightened by the crisis; and (iii) priority for the struggle against inflation, itself a means of avoiding falling back in international competitiveness.

In these countries, response to the previous crisis was Keynesian, that is, redistribution of income and increase of overall demand through public spending with strict regard for the rules of financial profitability. It is debatable if this response was really effective in the 1 930s or if it was only an illusion, and if the 'imperial withdrawals' that accompanied it were not rather an ingredient in the crystallization of blocs leading, for example, to the war: the fact is, that this kind of response is quite impossible nowadays.

Is the working class of the developed capitalist countries doomed to defeat, that is, to accepting 'restructuring' in terms only of the demands of the profitability of capital?

Such an outcome is inevitable if we accept the sacrosanct 'international competitiveness' as the final criterion for immediate options. The only way to avoid surrender to the demands of capital is to relate the immediate option to two complementary perspectives, in favour of 'alternative development' and in favour of support for the national and popular plan in the South. Defeat is also inevitable if we accept the rallying to the Atlantic pact entailing the subjection of North-South and intra-West relations to the East-West confrontation.

Undoubtedly, too, the hegemonic centres and the other centres do not behave exactly the same way in the phases of the crisis. The hegemonic power of the moment is the only one that can play the game of worldwide expansion to the limit. The rest are obliged either to keep their distance (imperial protectionism, and so on) or to submit. Nowadays, the United States makes the decisions, and Europe with good or bad grace rallies round and accepts them. This asymmetry suggested to André Frank that there is a single 'national' bourgeoisie, that of the hegemonic power, and all the others are to varying degrees subordinate. It seems a strained conclusion. First since hegemony is characteristic only of moments of capitalist history, Great Britain's from 1815 to 1880, the United States's from 1945 to 1970. The hegemony has never prevented the rise of adversaries and an eventual challenge to itself. If worldwide expansion at the current stage no longer permits the emergence of new centres, the centres established at an earlier stage are not susceptible to being 'disintegrated' and 'compradorized' as the peripheries are. The prior national construction has created an irreversible reality.

c) The crisis of the world system is multidimensional. By this token the strategies of East-West relations are articulated in the internal strategies of capital.

The attitude of the West in this regard is somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand there is an effort to 'reintegrate the East' in the world system, in the hope that this reintegration might offer new prospects for the expansion of capital, lt must be stressed that capital here is obliged to respect the political autonomy of the countries of the East, despite the deep crisis in the economies of the Communist world (difficulties of moving to intensive accumulation with respect for the statist modalities of the system, foreign indebtedness, among others). On the other hand the Reaganite counter-offensive recruited the West into the arms race it wanted ('Star Wars', and so on) which obviously reduced the possibilities of 'reintegrating' the USSR into the world economic system.

The question to consider is not the character of the USSR or its outlook, but the empirical one of the tactical military balance. At this level is the USSR the main threat today? Why does it not use its supposed military superiority to attack the West today instead of waiting until it has lost that superiority? Is there not really a disinformation campaign aimed at winning acceptance for the re-establishment of the hegemony of the United States? The European gamble that yielding to American demands on this would allow the negotiation of economic concessions has turned out to be a trap. The opposite has occurred: rallying to the Atlantic pact has reduced the scope of Europe's economic autonomy.

In such case, the East, whether or not it is regarded as 'socialist', is no more incapable of becoming potentially expansionist, or adventurist in order to overcome its internal crisis. Its internal crisis is deep and specific. But it is doubtful if it can be overcome by gradual integration of the East in the world system. This option strikes significant obstacles: the threat of loss of control through too much integration... the East would back-track whenever it felt threatened. This is the lesson of the failure of Khruschev's illusions, followed by a return to the conservatism of Brezhnev. It is true that Gorbachev now seems ready to take these reforms further. These reforms, like those under way in China (that are in part their inspiration) cannot, however, be reduced to a 'readiness for reintegration in the world system'. Their political, democratic and popular aspect gives new heart to the socialist forces in the society. By restoring greater balance between the three components of the post-capitalist society (socialist, capitalist and statist components) - and putting an end to the hegemony of the statist trends - the reform may unblock the situation and open new ground for the dialectic of social progress. Of course, have not the conservative forces in the West, fearful of progress and proponents of a 'socialist menace', for this very reason chosen to reheat the atmosphere through the arms race?

The difficulties of forecasting

Capital's global offensive does not lessen conflicts between the states (superpowers. Europe-Japan-United States, conflicts with Third World countries...) but aggravates their violence. The crisis will continue and probably worsen, since the forces in play as they are cannot impose a solution.

Since the beginning of the 1970s, each recession is worse than the previous one, each recovery a more uneasy convalescence leading to relapse. The new market opened by OPEC and the semi-industrialized countries (through recycling) has closed down. The response is artificial and based solely on galloping inflation, in the United States' external and internal debt, without genuine investment, and turning capitalism into a roulette wheel ever more threatened with financial crash. A relaunch through dollar devaluation no longer works for the United States and a relaunch through the German and Japanese engines is refused.

Undoubtedly, in this situation the ruling classes will become aware of the solidarity that links their fate. A solidarity that extends in part to the leadership of the countries of the East.

Can the conclusion be drawn from this that solidarity is worth more than competition and that, 'all in the same boat', the ruling classes of the West will agree to wipe off the Third World debt, if only to prevent the debtors who must serve the debt being forced to export more, at the cost of increasing unemployment among the Western creditors? Will a united Europe agree to be the starting motor for a compassionate relaunch based on a common social policy?

It is very doubtful, simply because capitalism is not governed by the pursuit of common long-term interests (even those of capital) but by competition of capitals and capitalist countries. It is obvious that unemployment in the short term is not the problem of the capitalist, but of the unemployed. The search for immediate profit is paramount, and without it the supremacy of financial speculation over investment would be inexplicable, and the alignment of the entire West behind the IMF to impose a further round of pillage on the Third World would be incomprehensible. Could the 'workers' of the West jointly impose upon their states an intelligent capitalist solidarity (through advanced common social policy and a moratorium on Third World debt, for example) that the capitalists themselves refuse?

Is the financial crash inevitable? It is not absolutely clear, although the possibility is by no means ruled out. There are nowadays 'financial techniques' that may prevent a formal crash, techniques unknown in 1929. But these tricks do not eliminate the problem. In the absence of a crash, the crisis may drag on, slowly worsening. This is what some believe the most likely, with the further conclusion that the European electors will continue to oscillate between liberal conservative and flabby social democracy. Really there is nothing new in the West.

In the longer term, anything may happen...

'Forecasting' in the cycles of long crisis of the capitalist system, the periods of 'wars and revolutions', is therefore a hostage to fortune. Who in 1910 would have been capable of imagining the world of 1945, just 35 years later the Russian and Chinese revolutions, the independence of Asia and Africa, US hegemony and the end to inter-imperialist conflicts? The year 2020 remains unpredictable, and almost any scenario may be sustained. Are we looking at the 'desirable' future (from whose point of view?), or probable or possible? on what time scale: short term, that is, with existing political and social forces, or longer term, when the balance of forces may have changed, or new forces have emerged? If politics is the art of the possible, it is not only the art of the possible in the current relation of forces (that art is at best of the tactical, and most frequently opportunist policy) but is also the art of changing the relation of forces.

A further difficulty what is the real extent of the scientific and technical mutation under way? Does it exempt the less advanced societies from acquiring control of 'routine techniques' to rush straight towards the future? This argument is so frequently invoked that it provokes in us a reflex to discount it. Is this a new and additional form of blackmail? It seems that the 'underdeveloped' society that managed to master what is still the essence of productive systems would also be able to move to the higher level more easily than is often supposed, and that without the initial mastery, its effort to go beyond it first may not be very successful.

Furthermore, is there a necessary relationship between this mutation and the constraint of worldwide expansion? Here again the prevailing view is that the constraint is 'inescapable' for everyone, capitalists and socialists. In this instance the current crisis would be of a 'new kind'. We should add that military technology - the real possibility of global destruction of humankind - must of necessity affect the strategies and tactics of the forces in play. A 'collapse' that would have been taken positively in other times is now frightening because of the danger it could bring of a slide into nuclear war. But we roll all these arguments into en 'absolute technical, military and cultural world-embracing constraint'. They have a fair measure of blackmail that gives us pause.

The real options for the peoples of the West

We were satisfied with saying above: 'Really there is nothing new in the West'. It is a phrase that needs to be expanded if we are to avoid misunderstandings. Obviously the West is the centre of countless evolutions of significance for the overall future of the world. It is, for example, the centre that drives the development of the forces of production on a world scale, the inventor of new technologies. In some aspects of social life it is also the locus of the most advanced breakthroughs (consider the impact of feminism on day to day social relations...). What the phrase we are considering means, is that the stability of Western society is such that the relations of production are modulated and adjusted to the demands of the development of the forces of production without occasioning serious political schism.

We might cite a living example. Fordism as a form of capitalist relations of production corresponds to a given phase in development of the forces of production (mass production, assembly line working, mass consumption, the welfare state, and so on). Fordism is nowadays in acknowledged crisis: productivity of labour can no longer advance on this basis and sometimes falls. New technologies (informatics and robotization, genetic engineering, space exploration, among others) force other forms of labour organization. But everything leads us to suppose that this crisis in Fordist labour will not bring revolutionary political fractures. At most it will lead to a reclassification in the hierarchy of centres, accelerating the decline of some (Britain, France?) and the rise of others (Japan?). To take the argument further, it might be said that there is less and less that is new in the West. A comparison between the social reactions to the current crisis and those of the 1930s is highly instructive. The crisis of the 1930s led to serious political polarizations: fascisms or popular fronts. In our crisis we see on the contrary left and right (in the electoral sense of the terms) drawing together in the conception of how to manage the passage to a higher stage of development of the forces of production. Is this not a clear political effect of the increasing and deepening polarization within the world system? In the West the capitalist relations of production adjust to the demands of the development of the forces of production without bringing a pronounced political and social crisis.

But if the underlying crisis continues over a long term, with or without a financial crash, are some as yet unexpected upheavals likely to occur?

It is not hard to see that, in the event of a crash, the mercantile conflict would prevail over any other consideration in the first instance; and the EEC would probably not survive as an institution. But even without a crash, would not a continuance and worsening of the crisis lead to the same result? Must chilling responses, bolstered by the shock of chronic unemployment, and taking on a fascistic hue perhaps, be excluded?

It is in any event striking that in the discussions on this outlook one question is not often asked: what will happen to the United States? Perhaps this is because the answers are either too frightening (a slide into war) or utopian, in present circumstances (a new 'New Deal'!) This vacuum is accompanied by an additional threefold vacuum: there is not much new in the East (a slow and controlled evolution or return to cold storage seem the only probabilities); nor in the South (the people will accept the fate the West deals out, even at the cost of sporadic, unimportant revolts); and in Japan still less change is expected.

So attention is focused on European reactions. Then all the imagination that is so cruelly lacking about the others has full range. In this spirit three scenarios are envisaged. First: break-up of the EEC, and internecine struggle of narrow nationalisms. Second: rallying to the Atlantic pact and East-West confrontation. Third: a change of direction and rapprochement of the two Europes.

These three hypotheses, if they are quantifiable, are all equally probable. The first might be said to lead to absurd attitudes that would entirely marginalize

Europe. But history has its share of collective suicides. The second might be said to lead to militarization of West and East (and a turning inward that the option would impose on the Soviet bloc) that would be appallingly costly for the two Europes and emphatically increase the danger of the slide into militarism. Is the risk being avoided? After all, is not anti-Sovietism, which does exist in Europe (and on the left), the best argument of the Atlantic pact? And has the Atlantic pact not had the last word on the mercantile conflicts between Europe and the United States? The third hypothesis is no less probable. There are some who doubt it, since the EEC will become an 'economic giant' unable to pursue a policy independent of US strategy: it cannot escape the dollar nor the American nuclear umbrella. There are others who believe that Europe will manage it sooner or later. For Europe cannot operate (that is escape the crisis) by accepting the dollar and the US nuclear umbrella. Just as the United States would be more and more drawn to the Pacific and a Washington-Tokyo-Peking axis would become inevitable (especially as Japan would have no option but to join with the United States and China, on the argument that it went on regarding the USSR as the 'principal danger') then, almost inevitably, the only safeguard for Western Europe would be a rapprochement with Eastern Europe.

Again, what is striking in these suppositions is the implicit hypothesis that the East would remain passive and would accept the European overtures without being able to change the modalities, and that the South would remain even more passive (nothing new would happen... after the Chinese and Russian experiences, revolution has come to an end...).

What is also striking is the confusion between probability, possibility and desirability. East-West European rapprochement is certainly possible (even if it is not possible to assess its probability in comparison with the other hypotheses), but above all desirable. Not in the ingenuous sense that it would 'solve the European problem' (the crisis in West Europe), but in the sense that it would offer more opportunities for social progress (in West Europe and East Europe and in the peripheries of the South). For - something that makes this prospect seem difficult - such rapprochement implies a dynamic new West-East-South relationship that must take into consideration the objectives of the peoples of the East and South.

Before considering more or less realistic or chimerical long-term projects, it is useful to examine what Western Europe is and what social and political forces operate there, and what are their practices and views.

In this framework it is easy to carry out the process for the EEC as an institution of a common European economic policy and of Europe as an ensemble of national political societies of central capital. It is obvious that the EEC has not been a means of resistance to the United States, but on the contrary the channel for an acceleration of Atlantic transnationalization (the EEC being a sub-unit of the worldwide unit) which does not preclude mercantile conflicts between partners. Europe is an active partner in the imperialist domination of the Third World, and in particular the senior partner in the domination of Africa. In some aspects of economic policy to the Third

World, and Africa in particular, Europe is no less harmful than the United States; and there is an image of the 'ugly European' no less ugly than that of the 'ugly American' in Latin America, as has been shown (cf. Chapter 4).

At the political level, European attitudes so far have scarcely been any more attractive. The alignment of Europe with the strategy of the United States (since Europe is not only the EEC but NATO too) has aggravated East-West conflict. The aim of this common strategy is not the defence of Europe but, if not driving the USSR out of Eastern Europe, at least a pressure on the USSR through the arms race in the hope that this pressure will trap the countries of the East in positions that prevent their democratic and social evolution. Unconditional support for Zionism, the plan to split the Arab world, connect the Maghreb with Europe on the Turkish model and 'Lebanonize' the Mashreq, are part of this negative perspective, as are many of the interventions in Africa (cf. Chapter 4).

Does this mean that the EEC is the institution responsible for all these tribulations? That without it the forces of socialism would have been reinforced in some if not all the European countries, in their mutual isolation? This view, recently held by some European Communist parties and, curiously, adopted by the British Labour Party, and argued by Johan Galtung seems totally illusory to me. Unfortunately the roots of the dominance of capitalist forces' on which the social consensus in Europe is based, are much deeper. That is why 'proimperialist', anti-Soviet, anti-Third World options have a very strong following among the electorally strong forces, of right and left, with or without the EEC.

It is still the case that outside the common institutions of the EEC, Europe as an ensemble of nations - albeit capitalist - forms to some extent one of the 'weakest links' in the system. This is not the 'weakest link' in the sense Lenin gave the term, meaning a maturing of contradictions giving rise to a socialist rupture; it is a 'weakest link' in the sense that it might be brought to smash the current tightly knit Atlantic pact. Why? Simply because, in the long term, the system marginalizes Europe in its strategy and the world economy. This is a motive that might (but need not necessarily) lead to a rupture in the Atlantic bloc. The more so as the forces of European capitalism might justifiably feel that this overture would not threaten either their external security (the USSR would not seize the opportunity to invade Western Europe!) or their internal security (the 'socialist rupture' would not be an 'automatic' consequence).

Whether we like it or not we are back to square one. The future of the European peoples will not necessarily be hostage to the dominant view of the political forces at present on stage, views that are in the end limited. The option of 'alternative development' is the sole objective around which the forces of progress can be mobilized.

We shall not revert to the discussions as to what this 'alternative development' could mean in the circumstances of the developed West. The options have been formulated, in embryo at least, by still marginal movements, in statements by the Greens and feminists, in the programme of the Swedish social-democratic left for gradual transfer of social ownership of capital, in Italy's talk in favour of non-commodity opportunities, in the programme of Pasok in Greece in favour of support for national and popular projects in the Third World and so forth.

These positions are as yet no more than embryo, but an embryo essential for the renaissance of a socialist perspective in the new conditions, very different from those imagined by Marx in his day. The gradual effective crystallization of an alternative development could pave the way for an extension of social ownership. Of course this evolution has still to be found and must devise solutions for the real problems it poses, especially as regards the relations between the state and democratic socialization. Evidently the start of an evolution in this direction entails the relinquishment of neo-Keynesian illusions and a counter-attack on the fashionable ideology of the right ('anti-statism', restoration of elitism and inequality, and so on). No doubt, too, this prospect would have more chance if it were possible for the forces of the left in Europe to band together to insist upon a 'social' (end political) Europe going beyond the limited horizons of the Europe of the 'common market'.

Contents - Previous - Next