Prof. Leon Wofsy / Portside – 2005-07-23 09:53:19
(July 15, 2005) — The July 1st joint statement by China and Russia on “21st Century World Order” merits serious attention. Some may be inclined to dismiss it, because in many respects, the record of China and Russia (like that of all world powers) falls far short of the vision the statement projects.
Nevertheless, it hits head-on the overriding issue of at least the next several decades: the choice between a superpower effort to impose a unipolar “world order” that inevitably yields war and chaos and a multi-faceted alternative approach that opens doors to arange of innovative developments toward world peace and social progress.
There are many aspects of the joint statement that warrant scrutiny, but let’s focus here on the historic significance of the clash between contrasting approaches to “world order” in this new century. That is of great consequence to everyone who hopes that a different and better world can emerge despite present calamitous circumstances. It’s especially worth contemplating for those of us who have long conceived of the future from a socialist perspective.
Bush Sr. Calls for a ‘New World Order’
The call for a “new world order” (words recycled from a frightful past) was advanced by father Bush at the end of the Cold War. Since then the underlying assumption in US military and economic policy isthat a “new world order” can be imposed by virtue of superpower might and universal accommodation to US global “leadership”. But the notion that an American President and a few obedient heads of state can take control of world affairs is proving to be a direct route to an unending state of war and disaster.
The failure of the aggressive militaristic crusade that equates “order” with US global control is everywhere in evidence, although a stubborn Bush regime persists without let-up. Most of the world rejects war and resents the arrogant ideology of US hegemony. There is growing disenchantment at home as staggering costs and casualties mount, and the toll of innocent victims of war and terrorism escalates with no end in sight.
Without doubt, the future depends first of all on strong rejection ofthe Bush regime’s ultra-reactionary international and domestic objectives. That’s a big mountain peak to scale, but there are many signs (including on going changes in attitudes of most Americans) that it can be done. In that process, questions will arise concerning transition to a genuinely different world outlook.
The unipolar superpower model of “world order” operates in conjunction with the institutions of global capitalism to try tofreeze out any alternative pathways of social development. That, beyond its terrible human costs and futility, is ultimately its most damaging aspect.
Thus, even when the people of any country try to take control of their destiny, the governments they bring into power by revolution or reform are pressured to adapt to the prevailing world power structure. No government can ignore the sole superpower and the pressures of global capitalist arrangements. Even the limited elbow room for alternative social experiments that was possible during the Cold War is diminished. The “real world” compels compromise or distortion of ideals or both.
Beyond the absolute necessity that America and the world turn away from the Bush regime’s plunge into catastrophe, the key to the future is to establish conditions that permit nations and people everywhere to create pathways of social progress within a framework of international cooperation.
The ideas and principles of that kind of world order, as opposed to the unipolar straitjacket, are not new or unique to the Sino-Russian statement, although they are well expressed there and brought up to date from what can be read in the UN Charter.
What is new for the first time since the end of the Cold War is that the superpower way is becoming badly discredited and conditions are shaping up for a major adjustment in global realities over the next couple of decades.
There is no mistaking the rejection by the vast majority of people around the world of the notion that problems can be solved by war and bullying.
Bush’s Aggression Has Earned Universal Distrust of US
The Bush regime’s aggressive over reach has earned it universal distrust and condemnation to a degree never before directed at an American president. Nor is it likely that any future President of neoliberal persuasion can bring the world into line with a superpower agenda of imperial supremacy.
The momentum of globalization and the information explosion has accelerated the economic and political emergence of some formerly “third world” countries as rising world powers, even as it has expanded the shameful gap between rich and poor.
New regional alliances are surfacing that are a potential challenge to superpower dominance and the exclusivity of the global institutions that dictate rules of world economy and finance.
Most important for the future is the rising tide of “people power”, popular movements that are bringing about political transformation in a number of countries. Perhaps most significantly in Latin America, this popular upsurge expresses deep anti-capitalist outrage and the determination to achieve a more equitable social system.
The thirst for freedom that Bush seeks to exploit rhetorically and manipulate conspiratorially is clearly not a processhe can control. All of these varied developments have the potential to reach a critical mass that would alter international relations and even breath new life into the United Nations.
Of all people, socialists cannot overlook the enormous significance of contrasting approaches to “world order” in the first part of the21st century. At this juncture in history, the need is to unfreeze capitalism’s blockage of humanity’s search for new paths of social development.
A climate has to be secured that permits the people of South Africa and Brazil and Cuba and China — and, for that matter,of the United States and Europe — to explore and choose their wayforward.
What social experiments modify or replace the presentcapitalist order will vary from place to place, diverse in form and tempo according to different circumstances and cultural histories. The search is not for some uniform ultimate model, but for societies that are driven by commitment to human needs and aspirations rather than by the greed of an elite minority.
If a multitude of factors (popular movements most of all) mitigate the present international imbalance in power so that a multilateral approach to world problems and community takes hold, the doors to social progress and creativity will be open.
People will find theirways forward even if the ultimate goal of a whole world free of exploitation, racism and human misery is a project in progress beyond the lifetime of a few generations. The socialist perspective is meaningful in finding transitions to a better world, and its vision ofthe future can embody and inspire humanity’s hopes along the way.
Leon Wofsy is a retired professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley.
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