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The Fall of the US EmpireThe shifting tectonic plates of Empire

Susan Jappie reviews a new book that takes a much wider look at the history of Empire than just the last 200 years.

The authors of this timely book on the possible outcomes of the present economic, political and environmental crises, take an original approach to the question of a power shift from West to East. They examine the historic underlying causes, which they characterise as tectonic plates. This concept is a way of looking at social and class struggles within a complex mixture of structures.

Their analysis challenges much of what has already been written by other academics, who tend to focus on more immediate aspects with a Euro/North American bias, and look instead at the previous era of Chinese and Indian hegemony, which are therefore only resurfacing. The current shifts are a long-term manifestation of the built-in contradictions of the capitalist system with its reduction in profits, leaving the US like a wounded animal, as the loss of power leads to a rise in aggression – “a bubble waiting to burst”. The present situation in the UK is examined and the austerity programme of the coalition government is seen as speeding the decline of the West by excluding the majority of the population from processes which could benefit from environmental and socialist perspectives. The only way forward is for the ruling classes to admit defeat or be defeated by the victims of the financial crisis.

The ‘cracks’ in the US system have been evident since the end in 1971 of the gold standard /Bretton Woods era, as it has sought to hide them using ‘free market’ neo-liberalisation. The causes are not just the failure of the hedge-fund bankers, but the financialisation of the economy when the rate of profit fell for industrial production, after it was outsourced to India and China; as well as the ‘externalisation’ of environmental costs leading to environmental disasters and the depletion of natural resources.

Vassilis K Fouskas and Bülent Gökay point out that US dominance is fairly recent, as is Europe’s, in global history; the Middle East, China and India were key imperial powers long before. Now China is taking back control by seeking knowledge of technology and building its own industries, as well as raking in vital raw materials in exchange for financial support in many countries. These include deals with Brazil and Russia for oil and Australia for minerals. India has shown its independence from the US by ending the ‘weapon-dollar regime’. Between them India and China have a combined population of one third of the world total and are becoming world leaders in the software design and mass manufacture of global IT as well as co-operating in military matters.

Their rising consumer classes and their youth’s appetite for success are leading to a re-emergence of the dominance of East Asia. Although the US encouraged China’s economic modernisation programme at first, it has now become frightened of its threat to US hegemony. The West is now looking to the East for bail-outs and Anglo-American economics will only bounce back through ‘wars on terror’ and the survival of Israel. This is apparently part of a repeated pattern as “wealth is needed to underpin military power and military power is needed to acquire and protect wealth” (Kennedy ’88).

The prospects for the future are tied up with decline of raw materials, especially oil and the ecological crises, both of which will be a problem for capitalist systems wherever they are. The authors suggest that in order to develop, the world economy is in need of qualitative changes. The global fault-lines could work in favour of socialism and green politics, by emancipating people across the world, demanding social power and eco-friendly development. But these new choices need to be clearly envisioned and take into account the causes of past failures of the Soviet system as well as overcoming the destructive power of the old imperial power with its overspend on the military-industrial complex.

4 August 2012

The Fall of the US Empire: Global Fault-Lines and the Shifting Imperial Order by Vassilis K Fouskas and Bülent Gökay, Pluto Press £16

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