Ben Norton nato Opinion

World At Dangerous Crossroads, Only Two Paths Forward: Anti-Imperialist Socialism or Fascist Barbarism

The US-led imperialist world system is in deep crisis, so it wages a new cold war to prevent multipolarity, while lurching toward fascism. The left must offer a true alternative path that opposes both the far right and the liberal pro-NATO chauvinists.
A Latvian soldier scans the skies as his colleague mans a RBS-70 surface-to-air missile. NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization via Flickr

By Ben Norton / Multipolarista

This is the speech that Multipolarista editor Ben Norton delivered at the International Manifesto Group event commemorating the one-year anniversary of the publication of its manifesto “Through Pluripolarity to Socialism.”

Transcript

I think we should understand that the moment that we’re living in, historically, is extremely important. It has become a cliché to say that we’re in a watershed moment, but I do think that is true.

In some ways there are similarities to the situation during World War One. But there are also some similarities in the historical situation in the lead-up to World War Two, in the 1930s.

I’ll start with the latter. I think we’re in a moment in which it is widely recognized throughout the imperial core that there is a fundamental crisis within the capitalist world system, that bourgeois liberal democracy is fundamentally in crisis and significant decline.

We see living standards plummeting in the United States, for instance. We have seen multiple generations now have lower life expectancies than their parents.

We see that, especially with the disaster of Covid, in which more than 1 million people died in the United States alone, that life expectancy decreased by several years, especially for marginalized and oppressed communities, Black Americans, Latinos, indigenous nations.

And of course we see in Europe a significant crisis. We see entire economies are being threatened with recession. We see industries in Germany are going to go bankrupt because of the economically suicidal policies in which Europe is trying to break off all of its economic relations and energy trade with Russia, basically in the span of a few months, and of course this is a policy that is largely being pushed by US imperialism.

In this moment of extreme crisis, there are two responses: socialism or barbarism. This is the exact crisis, the exact kind of analysis, that Rosa Luxembourg discussed 100 years ago. The alternative routes are socialism, or more barbarism.

And I think at this moment unfortunately, the reality, especially in Europe, is that barbarism – that is fascism – is significantly on the rise.

And I think it’s our responsibility, as anti-imperialists and as socialists, to articulate another path that recognizes the fundamental crisis within the current system, that recognizes that imperialist institutions like NATO and the European Union are not worth saving, in this moment in which they are fundamentally in crisis.

Because the reality is that we have seen an attempt to co-opt and exploit that anti-war sentiment that is quite popular among working people in the so-called West, in the imperial core, and try to direct that energy toward the far right.

We see that with the very cynical rhetoric of people like Donald Trump. We see that also in Europe with people like Marine Le Pen and other far-right leaders.

So I think we also need to understand that, while we are seeing this crisis within the imperialist bourgeois democracies, there is a fundamental crisis within the imperialist world system.

And there is I would say unstoppable momentum moving toward the creation of a multipolar world.

Of course we see that US-led imperialism is trying to halt that, through the creation of a bipolar world, by waging a new cold war. That is the point of this new cold war.

And we have seen extremely aggressive statements, not only from the most recent two US presidents, Donald Trump and now Joe Biden, who have threatened war with China in order to support secessionism in Taiwan; who have imposed more and more aggressive sanctions on the People’s Republic of China; we see now an economic blockade on Russia.

But also, at the same time, we see that, within other parts of the Global South that are moving toward this multipolar world, there is a clear attempt to try to divide those forces among themselves. We see this especially in the contradictions between India and China, and of course India and Pakistan.

So there are internal contradictions that are being exploited by imperialism.

But I want to briefly highlight some comments that were made by the European Union.

Of course, in this imperialist partnership led by the United States, the European Union is largely a junior partner in the imperialist world system dominated by the US.

Increasingly, we see this now with Europe becoming very heavily reliant on US energy exports, especially LNG [liquefied natural gas].

But at the same time, we also see that the European Union is a more than willing collaborator, and not just collaborator — a more than willing aggressor when it comes to being a willing participant in this imperialist world system.

And we saw a speech that was given — a shocking, blatantly racist speech — given by Josep Borrell, who is basically the foreign-policy chief, the de facto foreign minister of the European Union.

This was a speech he gave on October 13 at the inauguration of the EU ambassadors conference in Brussels.

He said that Europe is a beautiful “garden,” and that we need to protect that garden from the evil barbarians in the rest of the world, who are a “jungle.”

This shows that this neocolonialist mentality is still very much alive in the European ruling class.

He said that the rest of the world is a “jungle,” and they threaten to “invade” us — which is of course incredible projection considering that Europe, the European colonial powers, have 500 years now of invading every corner of the planet, overseeing some of the most violent, murderous empires in history, and genocide, and ethnic cleansing, and mass slavery.

So we see that this neocolonialist mentality is alive and well.

That speech did get some attention, but what was also interesting is, three days before, Josep Borrell, gave us another speech at the inauguration of this diplomatic academy in Brussels, and the tenor of that speech was quite different.

In that speech, we saw Borrell lamenting the decline of Western unipolar hegemony. And in that speech, he acknowledged that after the end of the first cold war and the overthrow of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, he acknowledged that the imperial core’s moment of prosperity was predicated on the subjugation of China and Russia.

He said this very clearly in his speech on October 10. I have a report on this; you can find the transcript at the official EU website.

He says, “Our prosperity was based on China and Russia.” That is an exact quote: “Our prosperity was based on China and Russia.”

He acknowledges that it was based on the subordination of the Chinese economy, and a captive market, and cheap consumer goods from China, as well as cheap energy from Russia, that was being exported to Europe.

And of course that cheap energy is what allowed European economies to be competitive. We see that now with the collapse of entire industries in Germany.

So this is an acknowledgment by one of the key players in the imperialist world system, the EU foreign-policy chief, that this unipolar imperialist order, which also is is co-determinate with the neoliberal system — neoliberalism being the phase of capitalism of US-led unipolar hegemony, of the unipolar hegemonic domination of the capitalist world system by the United States and Europe.

We see this acknowledgment that that system could only have operated based on the subordination of China and Russia, and of course the rest of the world.

Now that China and Russia are no longer subordinated, now that they are independent powers – and by the way, now that they are strategic partners, and building a new Eurasian bloc – we see this fundamental crisis within the capitalist world system and within the imperialist bloc led by the United States and Europe.

And what is their response to that? Their response to that is a drive toward global war, the US and Europe pushing the world toward World War Three and the brink of nuclear apocalypse.

And we also see a move toward fascism. And I’ll just end with that note. I think that’s the real danger that we need to grapple with.

We’re in this moment in which there is a fundamental institutional crisis of legitimacy of bourgeois democracy, of capitalism itself. And there are two responses: socialism or barbarism.

However, fascism has always portrayed itself as, Michael Parenti said, as a false revolution. It cloaks itself in revolutionary rhetoric against the so-called “globalists” – not the imperialists, the so-called “globalists,” which is of course very vague. It could be anti-semitic; it could refer to liberals, and people who support LGBT rights and who are against racism, and feminists.

It is very unspecific terminology that is used to co-opt this popular energy, that recognizes that these constant imperialist wars have devastated the world, and redirects that energy not against imperialism and capitalism, but against so-called “globalism.”

Or they talk about the “establishment,” but they never define the “establishment.”

They’ll even say “ruling class.” We see Steve Bannon has talked about, has railed against the “ruling class”; but he doesn’t mean the capitalist class.

So we see these charlatans, these sophists, who try to co-opt that popular energy and redirect it toward fascism, toward scapegoating LGBT people, scapegoating oppressed nations, scapegoating especially in the United States Black people – we see an increase in white supremacy, and white nationalism, and so-called Christian nationalism being espoused by some of these fascistic US politicians.

So I think it’s our responsibility to articulate a firm line against imperialism and war, but also a line against national chauvinism, against bigotry, and against capitalism.

And that, in this moment, it is completely necessary; it is extremely important.

Because we see a fundamental crisis also within the left, especially in the imperial core, that is not dissimilar to the crisis that led to the split of the Second International in 1916.

And in that sense, I said we’re not only in a moment that is similar to the 1930s, in the sense of the rise of fascism and the fundamental crisis within the capitalist world system, but we’re also in a moment that’s not dissimilar to the 1914-1918 period.

This is not because I think that this war that NATO is waging against Russia is an inter-imperialist war; it’s not an inter-imperialist war; it’s an imperialist-led war to prevent the consolidation of this multipolar world.

NATO is waging a war on Russia to destroy BRICS, to prevent the consolidation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Eurasian integration, to prevent China and Russia from forming a coherent political economic bloc that will offer countries in the Global South an alternative path of economic development.

That is the war that they are waging. It is not like World War One, which was fundamentally an imperialist war over the colonies.

But we are in a moment that’s not dissimilar to the 1910s, in the sense that there are large parts of the left, especially in the imperial core, that have abandoned anti-imperialism, and have actually given the far right an opportunity to recruit by saying that they’re the ones who are against the so-called “globalists,” not the imperialists.

We see large parts of the left actually going along with imperialism, either tacitly or openly.

So it is a struggle against both of those tendencies: the far right, but also against the opportunist parts of the left who don’t support revolutionary defeatism, who see this war and say they want NATO, and fundamentally the imperialist bloc, to win this war, that fundamentally means the destruction of the attempt to build a multipolar world and the further consolidation of this unipolar world that is on its deathbed at this moment.

So I can’t stress how urgent that is at this historical moment. And fortunately I think the work that you all do, and I try to do, in organizations like the International Manifesto Group cannot be more important in this critical historical moment.

Thanks a lot for inviting me today.


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Benjamin Norton
Benjamin Norton

Ben Norton is a journalist, writer, and filmmaker. He is the founder and editor of Multipolarista, and is based in Latin America.

8 comments

  1. This piece is brilliantly laid-out in short segments of text to increase readability.

    Here is great insight, IE: the realization that you can improve accessibility to content through pure mechanics such as spacing, font choice, and point size.

    1. Kent in all honesty I needed to reread your comment, glance back over Norton’s piece and think for a moment trying to decide whether you intended irony or not. I am still not sure. This piece is not brilliantly laid out. It is written in a style which may be familiar to readers who regularly ingest social media and/or read on cell phones. While some may feel this is accessible others will find it stultifying. Writing in a style suitable for SMS messages is not brilliant. It is unfortunate.

  2. A powerful essay worth reflecting about. One may -or may not- agree with all the points. This is, however, largely irrelevant as groups have different views should not automatically lead to splitting between them.

    What is clear is that a declining West -and uncertain so called emerging blocks- should work through their own psychosocial issues, for ex. wish for omnipotence, decline as annihilation and various guilts inherited from history. This always applies to all sides even if the US -attempting to remain the sole superpower-is undoubtedly one of the culprits. Working through means understanding and internalizing how each society functions as a social system of defenses against anxieties.

    Assaults on human rights (e.g., China, Iran) sharply declining purchasing power (e.g., EU, US with the latter exhibiting poverty and exclusion incompatible with its overall wealth), and climate change (e.g., Pakistan) means that we must all work together as one world collectively facing a myriad of systemic crises threatening all of humanity.

    A better psychosocial world is within reach of leadership all over is willing to adopt a psychosocial approach to public policies and dialogue.

  3. John LeCarré: “God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of America’s Middle Eastern policy and anyone who wants to mess with that idea is a) anti-Semitic, b) anti-American, c) with the enemy, and d) a terrorist.”

    GFW Hegel, The Philosophy of History, “What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”

    Saladin: “I warn you against shedding blood, indulging in it and making a habit of it, for blood never sleeps.”

    The only problem the ‘Allies’ had with Hitler was his designation of Germans as the ‘Master Race’. They knew that this right belonged to the US and Little Britain.

    Ursula Le Guin: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

    Louis Riel, July 4, 1885: “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

  4. A mediocre propaganda piece, amalgamating half truths and biased non sequiturs .
    Overall a pot pourri of empty slogans and Western- centric navel gazing.
    Russia and China have not been subordinated to anybody from 1917 and 1948 respectively and have decided their way ( for better and/or worse) independently and sovereignly. To argue differently is either ignorance or, more probably, bad faith.
    The West, China and Russia have been in a symbiotic relationship that added to the prosperity of everybody : the West benefitted from the Chinese manufacturing , China from the western IP and access to markets and both benefitted from Russian energy exports.
    Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the perceived Chinese expansionism shattered this cozy arrangement, with negative outcomes for everybody.
    It is telling that the pseudo analysis in the article manages to ignore both the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the nationalist-fascist nature of the regimes in Moscow and Beijing ( one omnipotent leader, total primacy of the state over the individual rights, suppression of protest and criticism, use of nationalist/revanchist themes to better control the masses).

  5. SIMPLISTIC EITHER/OR OF TIRED LEFT ASSUMPTIONS

    No, not the political left, but rather the limited processing of the human brain’s left hemisphere. Its logical definitions of rationalism and empiricism mean it knows a priori what is or isn’t possible. It trusts in technological fixes. Since it dislikes ambiguity and uncertainty, it approves of either/or classifications. No room for nuance or doubt. It is also certain of its own superiority. Things are just the sum of their parts. Therefore reductionistic materialism must be true. And it makes sense to assume that the purpose of human life is to decide which form of economic determinism will rule.

    Norton of course has a few shards of truth, like calling out the imperialism of Borrell’s speech. Warmongering and capitalism as bad. Well, yeah, we know.

    What Is To Be Done?–the question Lenin raised. Norton has few answers. Something about a multipolar world. Yet he doesn’t see the irony of insisting the choice is EITHER “anti-imperialist socialism” OR “fascist barbarism.” As if multipolar doesn’t imply multiple points of view; well, understanding nuance is not a left hemisphere trait. Nor is considering there might be truths, not simply one correct Truth. Nor is noticing that an exclusive single answer doesn’t jibe with inclusive diversity.

    His only other offering: “So I think it’s our responsibility to articulate a firm line against imperialism and war, but also a line against national chauvinism, against bigotry, and against capitalism.” Yeah, but…

    *) What’s this “our’? For whom does he presume to speak? Is this a just another version of white rescuers of BIPOC? Does he believe “our” interests are all the same? They are for an econ determinist. I doubt many indigenous peoples would agree. However, I can only speak from my own background and do not pretend to know how every other indigenous nation connects to their realities.

    *) What “firm line” (singular)? Is he asserting something analogous to “vanguard of the working class?” Which is the assumption that we peasants are too stupid to lead our own revolution. And too stupid to govern ourselves so we need centralized rule by superiors. That’s why as a blue collar worker, I came to agree with my Wobbly logger grandfather.

    *) How exactly does “articulation” solve everything? Who gets to determine what is meaningful? Who gets to set the boundaries of what is acceptable?

  6. “The left must offer a true alternative path that opposes”

    The quoted statement encapsulates precisely the problems (and rot) infesting left-ish politics and advocacy in the past century or so. From its alignment to the fascistic (insofar as all violent political change – the go-to socialist instrument of political change was always, and remains violent revolutions – is fascistic in nature), losing Communistic paradigm a 100 years ago, to the recent excusing and the justifying of Putin’s military imperialism in Ukraine and the fawning over the ultra conservative BRIC+ emergence, coupled with abysmal record of almost complete inability to gain any position of influence within Western liberal democracies, the left is a complete and utter failure as a political or economical entity.

    Even now its propositions amount to nothing but a blanket opposition to the very institutions without which democracy, or any form of governance for that matter, are not possible at all, and their alternatives are vague and incoherent, if at all present, and its criticism is more destructive than constructive.

    The ‘manifesto’ above is a case in point. In its 2000 words or so, full of vile bile on the ‘evil’ Western ‘imperialist’ predator, two topics are completely avoided – why is socialism the remedy to our current ‘ills’, and how does socialism proposes to cure it.

    While the first issue is completely ignored in the text, the second question is particularly pertinent, given that Ben’s counterweight to the ‘uni-polar’ ‘western capitalist’ evil doer is a coalition controlled by ultra conservative, anti-democracy, totalitarian militaristic states (Russia & China), one of which had already embarked on colonial conquest wars (Georgia, Ukraine) while the other, after successfully de-democratizing Hong-Kong, threatens to do the same with its ever growing military (Taiwan), a third ultra conservative, proto-racist country is on the verge of anti-Muslim genocide (India), and the satellite countries include various non-democratic Middle Eastern, South American and African countries thrown into the mix (none of which, with one or two exceptions, is socialist, and most of which are on the cusp of predatory, oligarchic capitalism if not already there).

    If the advocacy for the BRIC+ non-socialist (if not anti-left to the extreme) alliance in the text is a partial answer to the question of ‘how’, one has to wonder if the invocation of a 100 years old “socialism or fascism” quip is anything other than a bizarre form of left-ish, Neo Progressive reactionary nostalgia, especially given the far-right, imperial nationalism permeating the emerging ‘remedy’.

    If the cynical, opportunistic (if not empty) invocation of ‘socialism’ in the context of prompting an organization controlled by the precise (political) opposite is not enough for one to reject the bizarre (faux) thesis above, the historical record of socialist countries should do the trick:
    No Communist country had ever became a democracy, thriving or otherwise.
    Of the two Communist super power one had collapsed and the other survived by abandoning its original ideology, becoming the global manufacturing pit and embracing wholeheartedly capitalism (to date, less than 40% of Chinese means of production is out of private hands, and while the state control – foreign and domestic – remains complete, the economy on both the macro and the micro levels is a market economy, i.e., capitalist).
    The only successful and thriving social democracies are intensely capitalist liberal countries.

    The old left had failed.

    To become relevant, the left must re-define itself within democracy and its institutions, as a political alternative, centred around the principle of equality, that is willing to take responsibility not only for the fulfillment of narrow (politically speaking) vision but for failures and compromises necessary in the inclusive environment inherent in a multi-polar structures of contemporary societies, rather than a nostalgic, delusional wink at an economic and Utopian past filled with almost exclusive failures.

  7. Great speech by Mr Norton, he is going to the core of our problems. Unfortunately we in the propagandized and rich Western countries have no idea how the ‘others’ live or have to make their living (yes we see some of it on TV, but like experiences in war it does NOT compare to the truth). Instead of working together on this small planet that is in deep trouble, we just think about getting ahead of the ‘others’, the communist/socialist hysteria in the USA is raging for many, many decades (although the US has a few socialist things, like Medicare and Social Security … most people would NOT want these things to disappear, or???). I am old, so for me it is ‘game over’ – but what about people with children, grand-children …. (do they really want them vaporized in a nuclear war, or a little later by climate disasters? Is more money and more things the only solution for us pampered Westerners??)

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