martedì , 23 Luglio 2024

Dopo gli Imperialismi: possibilità e problemi di una politica transnazionale di pace

di GIORGIO GRAPPI e ISABELLA CONSOLATI

Pubblichiamo l’originale in inglese di un testo di Isabella Consolati e Giorgio Grappi pubblicato in traduzione bulgara nel dicembre 2023 su un numero speciale della rivista Dversia dedicata al tema antimilitarismo, antimperialismo, antifascismo. L’articolo si colloca all’interno di un lungo confronto tra gli autori ed attivisti e attiviste dell’Est Europa all’interno del percorso della Transnational Social Strike Platform (TSS) e della Permanent Assembly Against the War (PAAW). Il testo si concentra in particolare sul modo in cui il richiamo all’antiperialismo è stato utilizzato in seguito all’invasione russa dell’Ucraina, avanzando la tesi che esso abbia funzionato soprattutto da blocco rispetto alla possibilità di reimmaginare l’iniziativa politica transnazionale.

L’argomento avanzato nell’articolo è che questo blocco non sia legato solamente a un’errata politica antimperialistica, ma al fatto che il concetto stesso di imperialismo sia oggi incapace di cogliere i caratteri di una situazione politica in mutamento e del ruolo essenziale della guerra al suo interno. Affrontare e discutere questi limiti, che riguardano, seppur con esiti differenti, tanto l’imperialismo “russo” quanto quello “occidentale”, non è semplicemente una disputa terminologica, ma una fondamentale discussione politica per poter costruire una politica transnazionale di pace che riesca ad attraversare i fronti di guerra e a liberarsi da schematismi ereditati da tradizioni politiche oggi inefficaci. Come specificato dagli autori, questo testo è stato scritto prima degli attacchi 7 ottobre guidati da Hamas e prima dell’aggressione dell’esercito israeliano contro Gaza. La guerra in Palestina ha ulteriormente modificato il quadro, riducendo l’attenzione verso le trasformazioni rese esplicite dalla guerra in Ucraina. Il livello inaudito di violenza dispiegato da Israele con il supporto occidentale verso le e i palestinesi a Gaza e il legame storico tra questa violenza e i decenni di occupazione israeliana rischiano di riattivare immaginari passati, invece di aprire un ragionamento necessario sul nesso tra i diversi territori in guerra e l’avvio di quella che abbiamo definito una terza guerra mondiale in atto.

Anche per questo bisogno attuale di cogliere le connessioni, le questioni aperte nel febbraio del ’22 non ci sembrano chiuse, casomai sono complicate ed amplificate dal moltiplicarsi dei fronti all’interno dello scenario della terza guerra mondiale. Riteniamo perciò utile rendere disponibile questo testo in un momento in cui la retorica antimperialista e della resistenza, in particolare in chiave antiisraeliana e antiamericana, finisce per alimentare una certa fascinazione per la possibilità di un ulteriore allargamento della guerra con il coinvolgimento diretto dell’Iran. Al contrario, riteniamo che interrogarsi sulle trasformazioni strutturali dentro cui si dispiega la terza guerra mondiale sia importante per puntare a percorsi di lotta capaci di rovesciare i fronti e praticare un internazionalismo “dopo gli imperialismi”, nella forma di una politica transnazionale di pace.

***

This text was written before the Hamas attacks on the 7th of October and the subsequent launch of an all-out aggression over Gaza by Israel’s army. There is no space here to give the events developed in this period the attention they deserve. However, in relation to the arguments discussed in this article, we think the situation in Palestine and the global impact it is having on public discussion and social movements reveals two things: first, the politics of war, as argued within the PAAW after the 24th of February, is today the main threat for social struggles and the possibility to develop transnational anticapitalist alignments; second, the interpretative grid of imperialism and anti-imperialism is unable to grasp the different lines of fracture crisscrossing the global political reality and to offer social movements compasses to navigate the present with a stance to simultaneously oppose the logic of war and the different forms of oppression.

Introduction

Before being normalised as an ordinary fact on the news, the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused a stir in Western Europe: ‘War is back in Europe!’.[1] However, with the wars in former Yugoslavia of the 1990s, war had already come to Europe, and in recent decades, Europeans brought numerous wars around the world. Nevertheless, the return of what was thought could not return gave rise to an exercise of historical analogy. The conviction that ‘a war that is waged in a nineteenth-century style probably deserves a nineteenth-century solution’,[2] that comes with the defence of the national principle as a response to what appears to be a colonial invasion, is not so far removed from a common sense that also runs through social movements and allows itself to be guided by established, but outdated, schemes to deal with the present. This explains the recourse to familiar categories such as that of imperialism and anti-imperialism, in a sense quickly purged of attempts to attribute new meanings to the term ‘empire’. We believe that this has led to simplifications that do not help to imagine a movement capable of opposing the metastasis of war.[3] In order to practice a politics that makes peace a terrain of struggle and not one of testimony, it is necessary to confront a transnational dimension in transformation and to grasp the non-linear and non-immediate connections between war and the conditions of those who are today dealing with its material and ideological effects.

We believe that the difficulty in organising a collective response to the war and understanding the discontinuity it has produced directly concerns not only those who want to pursue an effective politics of peace, but more generally the movements interested in overturning capital’s grip on our lives. What we have witnessed over the past year and a half is in fact the inability to produce, if not an initiative, at least a common ground for discussion capable of indicating what is happening as a central juncture of the political condition in which we live. This inability has shown how behind a widely diffused jargon, which resonates in different contexts, there is a lack of a common language and categories to understand what is happening around us and a discourse that allows us to intervene with some effectiveness. The inability to build an anti-war movement then reveals more than a contingent difficulty and is a crucial problem not only because of the immediate urgency of responding to a situation that produces death and devastation on a daily basis, but also in order to understand the obstacles we face in organising ourselves transnationally. This is why, as part of the Permanent Assembly Against War (PAAW), we have insisted at every opportunity to open spaces for discussion on this war and its connection to the material conditions of millions of people.[4] In doing so we have repeatedly met enormous resistance and the attempt to censor any reasoning on the war for fear of the conflicts it would generate, with the consequence that even radical discussions on social reproduction and labour struggles have taken place as if they were out of time and as if these realms were immune from the recoil of the politics of war at world level. Instead, we think that, in order not to be inadvertently enlisted in the pean of western civilisation against eastern barbarism, it is necessary to directly address the problem of producing a discourse capable of making evident the articulation between war politics and the conditions in which millions of workers, women, migrants and LGBTQI+ people reproduce their lives.

The problem for us is neither terminological nor historical, but political. Therefore, we are not interested in investigating what the immediate causes of the outbreak of the war are, what Putin’s motives are, or reiterating the indisputable responsibilities of his government. In what follows we intend to discuss the categories with which movements and collectives have tried to cope with the war in Ukraine, and among these in particular the idea that we are facing a return of imperialism and rival imperialisms.

After years of supposed ‘sovereignist’ comebacks and the growth of nationalism in contexts as distant and different as the United States or Hungary, China or India, the war in Ukraine seemed to many to confirm a trend that some have called ‘deglobalisation’. At the centre of the clash would thus be a new order, whose protagonists are competing imperial projects or, depending on the reading, a Russian imperialism and an anti-imperialist struggle. But what if we were instead facing something different, namely a growing, wild, transnational disorder produced in recent decades not only by the phenomena known as ‘globalisation’, that is by economic and infrastructural interconnectedness and the free movement of capital, but also by living labour movements against it? We refer by this to migrants’ movements, which have relentlessly broken every scheme of colonial and international division of labour, but also to the countless practices of strike and struggle enacted within the transnational chains of production and care. In the face of these movements and their possibilities, imperialist schemes draw a geopolitical veil that either prevents us from productively exploring this disorder or risks trapping us in a national cage that hinders the construction of meaningful links between those who oppose war and those who struggle every day for their own reproduction reckoning with transnational dynamics.

Overall, this war is producing worldwide effects. The constant reiteration of the risk of a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO, the nuclear specter, as well as the looming confrontation between the United States and China, threaten an ever-possible extension of the war to other and larger theatres. The term ‘world war’ is constantly reiterated as an ominous horizon. And yet, if we move away from geopolitical perspectives, in which state blocs and battlefields take centre stage, the global character of war is already manifested today in its profound implications, which concern not only relations between states, but the transformations of the general political coordinates in which we are struggling.[5]

Indeed, the war in Ukraine goes beyond the classic war between states, because the latter are affected by transnational political and social relations. We will argue that the main problem with all investigations that focus on the return of imperialism is that they end up overshadowing the ruptures between the expansionist projects of states and the valorisation needs of capital. In this way, the imperialist narrative, even when enriched with specifications and distinctions, ends up feeding an imaginary in which states are and remain the true and sole protagonists of our politics. Instead, in our opinion, it is a matter of recognising that states are only one of the actors in a field of tension between political command and the functions of capital, and between the movements of living labour and the trajectories envisaged by the projects of one and the other. It is also a matter of acknowledging that war is always a sign of the proletarian’s inability and impossibility to impose their own mark on the power relations in which they are involved. To fight against war therefore means not only to fight for its end, but to make peace the manifest objective of those who, within and beyond war, fight against violence, devastation, oppression and exploitation, and to escape the logic of siding with one or the other side of the war itself. This is for us the aim of a transnational politics of peace.

Imperialism, imperialisms and empire

Compared to the supposed overcoming of imperialism in favour of deterritorialised and globalised forms of empire,[6] according to many the ‘return of war’ would reveal a ‘return of the state’, i.e. a new centrality of states in defining directions and possibilities of valorisation. The reference is of course to the Leninist theory of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. Imperialism today would be first and foremost that of Russia, guilty of an expansionist project that led first to the invasion of Crimea, the clashes in the Donbas and the war in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Ossetia, and then to the invasion of Ukraine. On closer inspection, however, as some analyses have pointed out, “as an explanatory concept ‘imperialism’ turns into an ahistorical and tautological descriptive label”.[7] That is even more true if one considers the absence of the typical traits of imperialism as the supreme phase of capitalism in the case of the invasion of Ukraine, such as financial centralisation in the hands of national banks, as well as the difficult identification of a unitary intentionality peculiar to ‘Russian capital’. Although the Donbas is a region rich in raw materials, the conquest of new markets or the control of strategic resources are not sufficient reasons to explain the war.

In the light of the difficulty of identifying the rationality of the Russian imperialist project on the basis of the needs of valorisation of a capital that is now fully transnational, the tendency has been to accentuate the political and ideological aspects of the imperial drive that would characterise Putinism.[8] Imperialism would then have a sort of autonomous rationality, ultimately disconnected from capitalism and tied exclusively to geopolitical and cultural factors. This discourse bordered on the narrative of civilisations that has animated the European and Western press and politics by reactivating the discursive reservoir of oriental despotism.[9] This reading has, in addition, rested on a historical vision in which Russian imperialism, detached from any reference to capitalism, would derive from an unbroken historical continuity uniting the Russian empire of the Tsars with the USSR and Putin’s regime. In this way, the demonisation of the Soviet past that constituted the ideological framework of the neo-liberal transition is confirmed, and that risks being reproduced by those readings that see in the so-called ‘Ukrainian resistance’ an anti-imperialist and independence struggle.[10] Moreover, these readings have effects far beyond Ukraine in the entire post-Soviet space. As activist Aigul Hakimova, based in Slovenia and originally from Kyrgyzstan, writes,

As I was recently told, I represent an indigenous people, I’m a native and I speak one of those local languages, and we are victims of old Russian imperialism, later of the Soviet Union, and since the beginning of the war in Ukraine we have again become victims of a combination of old Russian imperialism, Soviet colonialism and new Russian imperialism. […] What is important today is the image of a map of Kyrgyzstan from the 9th century, which creates a sense of pride and unity. The unity that hides the purely economic interests of the newly established classes of owners and capitalists, the unity that turns a blind eye to the deteriorating situation of workers, village women, children who are left with ageing relatives.[11]

This rewriting of the past aims, on the one hand, to prevent reckoning with the devastating material effects of the post-Soviet transition and, on the other, to systematically shift the focus from the social level of struggles for welfare, better wages, freer reproduction to that of the ideological and potentially military conflict between national identities. In this sense a different reading of both this past and the present conjuncture is indispensable and can make the struggle for peace not so much an ideal to strive for, but the space within which the material reality of millions of workers, women, migrants, erased in the the clash between national identities and by the logic of war, can emerge and gain political centrality.

Faced with this politics of identity and nationalist memory and the disconnection between imperial drive and capitalism, some analysts, not without reason, have explained Russian politics by rehabilitating the Weberian category of political capitalism, i.e., a regime of accumulation in which the political apparatus is directly involved in the processes of valorisation.[12] These analyses are useful first of all because they bring the war back to the social level, that of the forms of accumulation of capital and social power, and because they allow a glimpse into the material history of the post-Soviet transition, a great puzzle for the entire so-called ‘Western left’ and for social movements. The will to war is attributed to the Russian and Ukrainian ruling classes, who were already clashing to redefine the relationship between state and capital: in Russia the former is guaranteeing centralised accumulation by political means, in Ukraine with expropriations and corruption a transfer of power was underway from segments of the post-Soviet elite to new groups, no less voracious, but linked to forms more open to the market and which therefore saw and see in the West their legitimisation and their model.

This reading, however, is in another respect limited because, without ever talking about them, it presupposes proletarians without power who are completely subject to the choices of new and old elites. This absence of agency seems to be explained by the adherence to nationalism that would cross all camps in struggle. However, the meshes of propaganda do not prevent us from seeing that in Russia there were reports of draft dodgers and attempts to protest,[13] and the announcement of partial mobilisation led to hundreds of thousands of expatriates. In Ukraine, a country that had already seen millions of its citizens emigrate to the EU over the years, the situation is different, but reports of resistance to conscription have begun to circulate with increasing insistence, and there are hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian men seeking refuge by leaving the country illegally. Moreover, there has been in Ukraine, as in Russia, repression of any dissent to the war, which in Ukraine takes the form of a ban on emigration for males – including people registered as male – of military age, a measure that shows how patriotic ardour is anything but spontaneous.[14]

Moreover, as Olena Lyubchenko points out, talking about political capitalism risks supporting the idea of Russian exceptionalism and overshadowing the fact that the intertwining of oppression, dispossession and exploitation, which require political interventions by the state, is a feature not only of Putin’s authoritarian regime but also of ‘non-political’ capitalism. Lyubchenko thus asks whether readings centred on the category of political capitalism contribute to the construction of a kind of ideal-typical nexus between capitalism and democracy, which ends up supporting the Western narrative of civilisation against Eastern barbarism, precisely at a time when even in the beating heart of the West, democracy is programmatically emptied of any material character, not least because of the war politics embraced by all states.[15] In this context, Lyubchenko emphasises that the decolonial (as well as anti-communist) framework is used by the EU itself in designing for Ukraine a reconstruction in a distinctly neoliberal key:

The Reconstruction Plan for Ukraine, the way in which this recovery is being unrolled, is embedded in a revival of post-World War II modernisation theory, the idea that democracy equals capitalism. But this time with a new spin. In Ukraine, we are witnessing democracy being equated specifically with the neoliberal regime of accumulation, which has been reanimated in the language of the nation’s self-determination. […] What is very fascinating about this logic is that Ukraine’s path towards self-determination is literally the process of Europeanisation.[16]

Only a transnational view of social reproduction can succeed in grasping these processes in their material reality, with its hierarchies that do not reflect the political geography of states but rather is centered on the struggles of women, migrants and workers moving across their borders.

Others are interpreting the war from the perspective of another imperialism, that of the West and NATO, which would be the real cause of the war.[17] This reading – that someone called “the anti-imperialism of idiots”[18] – considered the Ukrainian one as a proxy war, in which the real clash is between great powers, not only the United States against Russia, but, above all, the United States against China.[19] Hence a series of analyses on the return of the West, the nature of rising multipolarism and the ongoing hegemonic transition. These positions have also produced a remarkable ‘return to the past’ effect, arousing a chorus of reactions, not only because those who are dying there are regarded as mere pawns in games being played elsewhere, or because some of the supporters of this reading are silent on Russian responsibilities, but also because they reproduce the habits of thought of a certain anti-Americanism that characterised a phase of movements at the international level that has ended long time ago. Even if one were to criticise the claim of some Ukrainian groups to represent the totality of the Ukrainian people by assuming a compact adherence to the war and the so-called ‘resistance’, it is difficult to dispute the demand that “the international left, accustomed to fighting only against Western imperialism, should reconsider its strategy”.[20] It is equally difficult to conclude that this reconsideration must necessarily result in support for the war and rearmament policies of the West itself and for the decolonial lexicon of the European Union itself, where self-determination is, moreover, completely unrelated to the social conditions in which it can be implemented.

The reading focused on the rivalry between different imperialisms has led to a polarisation that has obviously affected the categories to interpret the forms of resistance to war itself. On the one hand, if Western imperialism is the real culprit, the West’s consistent participation in the war becomes the problem. On the other hand, if the war is a war of liberation from the colonial encroachment of Russian imperialist power, then any contestation of the Ukrainian people’s principle of self-determination, including the contestation of Western war policies,[21] becomes a support for an imperial project and colonial domination.

Even more indicative is the paradoxical situation whereby support for the ‘self-determination’ of the Ukrainian people in fact coincides with support for its integration into a supranational institution such as the EU, for the decisive transnationalisation of its productive and financial structure, and for its final handover to its creditors.[22] The compensation for the sacrifices of those who are fighting, offered by Zelensky, is one of the harshest anti-union legislations in the entire former Soviet space. Experiments in alliances with other ‘oppressed peoples’ under colonial domination fell on deaf ears, and in much of the world the images of the treatment of black migrants at the border during the first weeks of the invasion did not go unnoticed, revealing behind the unity a congeries of positions and expectations at best covered by timid declarations of solidarity.

The wild transnational

The spectre of imperialism evoked must however be interrogated in the conditions of the present. As anticipated, in readings that do not erase the nexus between imperialism and capitalism, it has above all the features of Lenin and the theory of imperialism, which rests on the coincidence of centralisation of political command and capital around the state. The latter became the vehicle of capital and indulged its urge to accumulate. Capital, in turn, presented itself as an aggregate of financial monopolies, which took charge of the national mobilisation for imperialist wars and collaborated in the colonial government of the empire by supporting the power logic of the state. In fact, already in March 1919, Lenin called imperialism a ‘superstructure’ of capitalism. This means that imperialism is no longer for Lenin a supreme and final stage, but something more complex and contingent, which after the revolution identifies the line of confrontation between capitalist and socialist states.[23]

Now, however, the socialist state no longer exists, and state capitalism (all of it) is not based on bank centralisation of financial resources. On the contrary, the central banks’ prominence shows the constant need to intervene within a financial market that is essentially impossible to regiment in a stable manner within the territorial horizon of the nation-state. Since Bretton Woods, Financial capital adopts an instrumental relationship with local conditions, becoming increasingly disengaged from a state that had to give up pieces of sovereignty to survive the great mutation of the 1970s. A functional relationship is thus established between capital and state that certainly does not produce any organic union sacrée.

This does not mean, however, that in various areas of the world an attempt is not underway to realign state and capital with a surplus of politics, even to the point of war. After all, both act according to the logic of command deployed against the subjects who would like to free themselves from that command. This, however, is the sign not so much of the return of imperialist projects, but of the difficulty of permanently aligning one and the other and the need for continuous adjustments, more or less violent. What is missing, however, is an imperial logic that unifies them and synchronises in a stable and lasting manner the contracted movements of the state to the agility with which capital, financial and otherwise, moves on the world market. More than in rival imperialisms, the roots of the current and potential future conflicts are to be found in the dissolution of a global order that had its economic-military centre in the United States and claimed to delocalise not only production, but even war. This dissolution does not bequeath a simply multi-polar world but marks the disintegration of the material constitution of a global empire that was never born. In place of the global order, a wild transnational disorder has thus settled in, in which it is not only the rules that are lacking, but also the subjects legitimised to produce them.

In order to illustrate what we are advocating, we will refer to some of the many initiatives underway in the area of security and the reorganisation of global governance, which have made the recent past particularly full of summits, meetings, and proposals. In the ‘Western’ field, we have witnessed a crossroads of initiatives that are not always coincidental and each time partial. In NATO’s new ‘strategic concept’, approved in June 2022 in Madrid, for example, we find the project to overlap defensive alliance and economic partnership, extending them beyond formal membership. The realignment manoeuvre between capital and state is passing through the ideological attempt to reaffirm a nexus between capitalism and democracy that finds a decisive pivot in the war in Ukraine. But also important is the call for the ‘new deal’ contained in the ‘Green New Deal’, evoked on both sides of the Atlantic. The existing tensions precisely between the US and the EU on this issue, as well as the tensions around grain between Ukraine and some of its European allies, announce the non-linear path of this perspective.[24]

Rather than indicating an actual inversion of the neo-liberal processes pursued in recent decades or pointing to common horizons, the reference to the ‘new deal’ is thus a rhetorical tool to legitimise discourses such as the ‘friend-shoring’ evoked by US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.[25] Even here, however, despite being hailed by many as confirmation of an imperial approach, the meaning of ‘friend-shoring’ has over time taken on less idealistic and more pragmatic overtones and has shifted from shared values and vision to commercial trust. Friends are, after all, those who promise to honour pacts and guarantee investments, but it is becoming increasingly evident how difficult it is to impose continuity on friendship and define its boundaries. In this context, while aiming to ensure military supremacy, NATO acquires a central role in promoting the economic ‘resilience’ of its members. This resilience, that is necessarily connected with neighbouring countries, even if not formally NATO members, relates to things such as the stability of supply chains and infrastructure, tackling climate change or having a say in the production chains of new ‘disruptive technologies’.

Russia’s ‘indivisible security’ strategy and China’s ‘global security’ initiative reason on similar scales, but with different projections. Both express a concept of security above all in the attempt to support the formation or consolidation of relations and areas of commercial exchange with subjects that refuse the normative role of the former “Washington consensus” but are also reluctant to fully align either with one or the other side. As several cases show, from Vietnam to India, it has in fact become increasingly difficult, even for the United States, to claim exclusive relationships, so much so that some have observed that 2022 “will go down as the year of ‘de-Westernization'”.[26] In any case, what we want to stress is that the reorientation of this transnational disorder, where also hierarchical relations cannot pretend to be exclusive, is what is at stake in the war in Ukraine.

However expansive the ambition of these projects, their scope remains limited and the resulting realignments are unstable. Seen from this angle, the new prominence of China, the bellicosity of Russia and the activism of other large states such as India or Brazil are not simply the expression of a changed geopolitical framework, nor merely the emergence of new poles, but the symptom of a general rearticulation of the relationship between states and capital in the transnational scene that goes beyond the characteristics of any single actor involved. In this new relationship, the centrality assumed by the transnational dimension imposes a flexible approach, in which variable alliances coexist with the recognition that a unitary governance of globalisation is no longer possible. It is equally clear that, notwithstanding the differences in power and capacity, there is currently no state capable of transforming this condition into a stable order. The state flare-ups we are witnessing represent an attempt to ‘securitise’ even manu militari large areas of production and exchange, but not a concerted plan between state and capital. In this context, war becomes the ever-possible condition within which states attempt to govern social, economic and cultural processes.

Even the BRICS meeting held in Johannesburg in 2023, which announced the enlargement of the consensus to include new countries (and the participation of 61 countries, 46 of them in Africa), failed to go beyond recognizing that the real consensus today is that they do not want to have particularly close ties with anyone. While BRICS shares the call to reform international institutions, and allows some countries to claim to be fighting against colonialism, when it comes to saying what should hold the alternative architecture together, they cannot go beyond rather abstract principles, such as that of ‘inclusive multilateralism’. Their members, meanwhile, are intent on pursuing commercial interests and favouring corporations while keeping the living labour movement at bay no less than their supposed opponents, contributing in particular to a new race to grab African resources.[27] Again, from the perspective of the wild transnational disorder we are advancing, it is a matter of registering not simply the different interests and visions among the BRICS leaders, nor the fact that the coalition is anything but a re-edition of an anti-colonial movement, but the imbalance between the reach of states and exchange systems, infrastructure networks, financial markets and movements of workers, women, migrants that constantly put them in tension.

As for the G20, behind the motto ‘One earth, one family, one future’, the strategy pursued in particular by the United States over the past year, i.e. to seize the opportunity of the war in Ukraine to produce strong alignments critics towards Russia and towards China’s ambiguity, has left room for compromise and an attitude that focuses on influence and looser relations. The outcomes of the G20 thus stand in contrast to imperialist visions of current global tensions, because they show how the main powers, including the United States, have to come to terms with the willingness of the ‘middle order powers’ to maintain as ‘multipolar’ a world as possible, increasing their prominence vis-à-vis the United States, but without falling into Chinese hands. It is within this framework that US policy today moves in ‘variable geometry’ and, as stated by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, through the formation of temporary coalitions of purpose.[28]

Taken together, these forums show how, alongside the leading role played by individual states in particular initiatives, intense work is underway to redefine the international order. However, it is worth asking what the significance of this generalised activism seen in the proliferation of meetings and prospects for the future by different states and alliances is, if we move away from a geopolitical perspective. As part of these efforts there in fact a competition around the reorganisation and redefinition of global value networks and for the access to and control of fields considered most critical in the next future. It is therefore no coincidence that, alongside attempts to position states within global multilateral governance, there are other initiatives that concern what we might call the material governance of transnational processes of accumulation. These go from the development or restructuring of specific supply chains, such as new data technologies and Artificial Intelligence, raw materials and energy, to the role of global logistics operators, to infrastructure initiatives, including the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, but also the EU-led Global Gateway and the Three Sea Initiative involving Eastern European countries.

We cannot underestimate how the production of value takes place today within transnational networks that are certainly influenced by pressures caused by state policies, but do not respond to geopolitical or imperial logics. In fact, these networks are made up of financial flows, resource movements, labour recruitment, large logistics players, access to raw materials and energy supplies guided by strategies that focus on the production of value and not on the realisation of political-territorial control. In doing so, the players involved may rely on state policies, but also take advantage of specific local conditions related to special economic zones, metropolitan regions, the presence of raw materials, wage levels and labour availability, the existence of a more favourable productive infrastructure, and access to transport and communication hubs. Against this background, the various ‘de-risking’ or ‘friend-shoring’ strategies implemented by various political coalitions are attempts to channel and at the same time capture value movements that are difficult to govern.[29] In the context of the war in Ukraine and the growing competition between China and the United States, the fact that, despite the creeping trade war between the two countries, trade between China and the United States continues to be at its highest level, and the fate of the economic sanctions against Russia, which have seen the flourishing of alternative routes and triangulations that have effectively prevented the blocking of Russian production chains, can be read as litmus tests of this reluctance of capital to comply with political command.

 In this sense, states and coalitions between states, rather than imperial agents, can be considered as ‘platforms’, i.e. terminals of initiatives and movements of capital to be spent within variable coalitions. These coalitions are constantly subject to the need for adjustments in which the surplus of politicisation that goes as far as war corresponds to the difficulty of keeping in check and directing in a stable and orderly manner the paths of valorisation and accumulation and the movements of living labour. In this context, Western militarism is no longer that of the ‘international police’ but has entered a new phase that not only alludes to the constant possibility of war in the current global disorder, but also to the management of capitalist relations in an attempt to recompose that misalignment between states and capital that we have been talking about. In this disordered context, war has become a constant possibility both to respond to the misalignment of state and capital by producing forced and partial realignments between the two and to secure production and value chains.[30]

For a transnational politics of peace

What makes the wild transnational, however, are not only the imbalances between states and capital, but, as anticipated, also the movements of living labour. Rather, it is not possible to understand the former without starting from the latter, and this constitutes the main argument against a geopolitical outlook, as well as against an imperialist interpretation of the current international tensions.

Before any talk of de-risking and the trade war with the US, for example, China’s position within the global production networks changed because of workers’ behaviour. As a result of the countless ‘mass accidents’, to use the language of the Chinese government, involving production sites and accompanying China’s whirlwind rise over the last two decades, capital in China has had to resort to wage increases and changes in a labour regime that was intended to be ironclad.[31] Yet, this does not only concern China. We can mention two other distant examples, which directly concern some of the vectors of transnational value production. The first concerns the high mobility of workers employed in Eastern European electronics factories. These production clusters are the direct product of the encounter between the enlargement of the European labour market and the extension of Chinese production chains. Workers’ behaviour observed in these years shows a subjective approach to work that has nothing to do with the imaginary figure of the factory worker who identifies with the fate of his employer and organises himself in a union whose main aim is to improve working conditions at a specific site. In fact, in subjective behaviours we can see a new figure of the ‘multinational worker’ who, on the basis of their ability to move, actively acts by exploiting wage differentials, the presence of sites in different jurisdictions and the seasonality of work.[32]

The second example concerns what has been observed in the United States with Amazon workers. Faced with the vertiginous growth of e-commerce and the pace of work, widespread discontent in the warehouses led not only to the first experiences of unionisation and strikes in the warehouses of the ‘giant’ in the United States, but to the company’s unilateral decision to offer a wage increase to its employees, with the evident intention of appeasing tension and ensuring greater predictability and stability in the organisation of work.[33] This took place at the same time as the first attempts of transnational organisation between Amazon workers employed in different countries, particularly in Europe.[34] These are only two examples, but it is the supply chains as a whole that are now suffering from a ‘personnel crisis’, not only for the most skilled jobs, but also at the level of warehouse and assembly line work.[35] This follows years of strikes, blockades and protests involving harbors all over the world, constantly seen as an increasing threat to the functioning of value chains.[36] It is also in response to this general reluctance of workers that supply chain security strategies and a principle such as ‘resilience’ became central to supply chain management discourse even before the Covid-19 outbreak and the war in Ukraine.

We think that all the phenomena we have been talking about have to come to terms with the framework of transnational disorder and the impact of war. In the face of this, it is clear that the policies of war and securitisation embraced by all states are not simply instances of competing power policies but are above all aimed at finding ways of harnessing living labour and its organisational capacities. War arises in this context as a principle of order and a recrudescence of that command over labour and its movements not because it promises the stabilisation of a new ‘global order’, but because it imposes on the pathways of struggle and communication potentials of living labour a drive towards militarisation and the national horizon as the only natural and indisputable one.

We can thus identify certain points of tension that, even if they do directly lead to anti-war movements, relate to the worldwide problem of the metastasis of war. We refer to the struggles of feminists in Russia against restrictions on abortion and the attempt to enlist mothers in the war, as well as the struggles against the anti-union legislation passed in the middle of the war by Zelensky, but also the waves of strikes that swept through the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Romania and more recently the auto industry in the United States. In all these cases, the scope of the clash is anything but national and directly involves the war in Ukraine. It is in fact about workers demanding wage increases or pieces of welfare in order to improve their living conditions, in a context in which instead states prefer increased military spending, competition over strategic sectors such as semiconductors, and the reassurance of financial markets. Just to make an example, in France, while the increase in the retirement age was justified as essential to remedy France’s deficit, throughout Europe last year military spending reached 1.5% of the entire GDP. The resulting costs will outnumber by far even the ambitious €807 million Next Generation EU package released during the pandemic. With an overall budget of €43.9 billion in 2023, the French military budget has increased by €3 billion and it will be the second largest item of government expenditure after education. It is telling that Macron, faced with millions of workers on the streets for months, called them to order like a commander-in-chief. As the TSS Platform states:

Forgetting the tens of thousands who died because production could not stop, he has maintained that the pandemic spoiled French workers because they got used to being paid by the state while not working, a little bit like soldiers on leave. Now things need to be made right and ranks need to be tightened. […] First the pandemic, then the war in Ukraine and inflation: too many expenses made to protect the people, now they need to pay back and obey while forced choices are made. But, against Macron’s claim to transform workers, migrants, men and women into soldiers of labour, their response en masse is the strike.[37]

Macron’s call for authority and order after the outbreaks of riots in several cities for the killing of Nael by the police is telling of a general shift that closes the spaces of negotiation opened by the pandemic when workers were able to obtain increases in wages and income supports. Rather than the sudden return of lapsed nationalist ideals, the shift to the right in the European and global political landscape is motivated by the need to discipline subjective movements that make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to govern them on a larger scale. The return to the nation is not only the sign of a growing rivalry, but also the widespread symptom of an authoritarian response to an ungovernable behaviour of men and women whose strength can only be grasped on a transnational level. One example above all: the transversal spread of policies to support the birth rate and restrict abortion, which claim to enlist women in the enterprise of national growth in the face of the unstoppable choice of more and more women not to be mothers. Thus, we see common traits emerging in the shadow of transnational tensions, aiming at a coercive government of the immediate reproduction of living labour through constant pressure on all life time, attacking abortion and sexual freedom, enclosing citizenship within the rigid confines of statehood, reducing the strength of wages, including the reduction of pensions.

Reducing the current scenario to a clash of states, so as to force the fight against war into alignment with this or that side, cancels out the behaviour and movements of those who fight daily not to die and to have a life freer from the blackmail of wages. A glaring example of this are the movements of migrants, who constantly defy any attempt to govern mobility, as witnessed by the repetition of supposed ‘crises’, in the Mediterranean islands as in the Balkans, on the US-Mexico border, or in Africa, which are from our point of view the signs of a force unwilling to submit to the dictates of efficiency and valorisation of the various migration governance plans. The increasing violence of governments is not exercised on a defenceless body but is the sign of a clash in which states and capital are forced to find ever new forms to valorise ungovernable presences. In this disordered context, war has become a possibility to force realignments between state and capital, securing production and value chains.

In the face of this transnational clash, the tyranny of the local, the national, and the international division of the organisational structures of labour and movements, from trade unions to collectives, manifest themselves as a tyranny of anachronism that prevents the construction of an initiative capable of intercepting the level on which the processes of exploitation are articulated today. For this reason, disarticulating the return to the nation-state and its projects of power seems to us the first essential step in a transnational politics of peace. It is therefore a matter of adopting a perspective capable of illuminating the new geographies along which class struggles are developing and imagining possibilities of organisation and opposition to the politics of war within them. It is by looking in this direction that we have advocated, within the Transnational Social Strike and the Permanent Assembly Against the War (PAAW), the need for a transnational politics of peace.

A transnational politics of peace aims at a double movement: on the one hand, to look at war not from the point of view of states or alliances between states, but from the point of view of those who suffer its effects and struggle against its consequences. On the other hand, it aims to understand how war is a political problem for movements because it fits into and contributes to the framework outlined above. We know that the problem is to link all these movements to the war on the ground, to identify in the various strikes, disobediences, and protests silent forms of rejection of the consequences of this war. We know, however, that this is the inescapable task of a transnational politics of peace that opposes the war in Ukraine by reckoning with global disorder. It is therefore necessary to introduce a space of communication between feminist, ecologist, workers’, precarious and migrant struggles that sees in the rejection of the material and ideological effects of the war a condition for expansive struggles of transformation. The ‘no’ to war cannot be expressed today if it is not charged with the strength of all those behaviours and languages that say no to capital’s tyranny over the time and the authoritarianism of states that claim to indicate to everyone their place in the reproduction of society, imposing boundaries that have little to do with claims to freedom that cannot be bounded. For this reason, a transnational politics of peace cannot be reduced to simple pacifism, which already twenty years ago, when it filled the streets of the planet, had the efficacy of one opinion among others, always and ultimately relying on states and international diplomacy to realise itself. Demanding an end to the war in Ukraine means for us engaging in a path of opposition to the material and ideological effects, violence and coercion that the politics of war imposes beyond Ukraine. Practising the peace of struggles today means nothing less than imagining the possibility of transnational movements that can break the cage of war and, with it, capital’s grip on our lives. To do this, we have only to insist on building elements of communication, sharing and constructing new languages and common discourses. This is not an easy exercise, but it is the narrow passage we face and one we cannot circumvent.

———

[1] This article is the outcome of collective discussions within the ∫connessioni precarie collective and the Transnational Social Strike Platform of which we are a part. It contains the reworking and updating of an editorial published in June 2022.

[2] G. Yudin, ‘The Neoliberal Roots of Putin’s War’. Emancipations: A Journal of Critical Social Analysis, Vol. 1: Iss. 4 (2022), Article 1, p. 8.

[3] ∫connessioni precarie, ‘The metastasis of World War III,” September 2022. https://www.connessioniprecarie.org/2022/09/06/the-metastasis-of-world-war-iii/.

[4] Permanent Assembly Against the War (PAAW), “Manifesto for a Transnational Politics of Peace,” July 2022. https://www.transnational-strike.info/2022/07/12/manifesto-for-a-transnational-politics-of-peace/.

[5] PAAW, “Let’s Strike Within and Against the Third World War,” May 2022. https://www.transnational-strike.info/2022/05/26/lets-strike-within-and-against-world-war-iii/

[6] Cf. A. Negri-M. Hardt, Empire, Cambridge (MA), Harvard University Press, 2001.

[7] V. Ishchenko, ‘The Class Conflict Behind Russia’s War,’ The War in Ukraine & The Question of Internationalism, Alameda Institute, 2023.

[8] V. Artiukh, The Political Logic of Russia’s Imperialism, July 2022, https://lefteast.org/political-logic-of-russias-imperialism/.

[9] Cf. P. Dardot and C. Laval, The bankruptcy of a one-sided ‘anti-imperialism (April 2022): (https://blogs.mediapart.fr/pierre-dardot-et-christian-laval/blog/040422/bankruptcy-one-sided-anti-imperialism).

[10] See e.g. E. Balibar, The Ukrainian War of Independence and the Worlds Borders, https://geopolitique.eu/en/articles/the-ukrainian-war-of-independence-and-and-the-worlds-borders/. Balibar however adds that ‘at the planetary level, political spaces are less and less separated or disconnected from each other. This is why, furthermore, the Russia-Ukraine war cannot be considered as a local war’.

[11] See A. Hakimova, ‘Introduction,’ in PAAW, Life and politics in times of war, October 2023, https://www.transnational-strike.info/2023/10/07/pdf-life-and-politics-in-times-of-war-the-post-soviet-situation-eastern-europe-and-former-yugoslavia/.

[12] M. Kulbaczewska-Figat, V. Ishchenko, “Why Russia’s Political Capitalists Went to War – and How the War Could End Their Rule,” transform-network, August 2022, https://transform-network.net/blog/interview/why-russias-political-capitalists-went-to-war-and-how-the-war-could-end-their-rule/.

[13] We particularly highlight the news circulated by Feminist Anti-War Resistance.

[14] Think also of the almost simultaneous arrests of Boris Kagarlitsky in Russia and Yuri Scheliazhenko in Ukraine. See also V. Yakovlev, Queering East European Despair or the New Postutopian Queer-Nomadism, in LeftEast, November 11, 2022 (https://lefteast.org/queering-east-european-despair/).

[15] O. Lyubchenko, Russian capitalism is both political and normal. On expropriation and social reproduction, The War in Ukraine & the Question of Internationalism, Alameda Dossier, 2023.

[16] O. Lyubchenko, Gender Equality as Decommunisation of Ukraine – A Mockery of Feminist Values, in Life and politics in times of war, in PAAW, Life and politics in times of war, October 2023, https://www.transnational-strike.info/2023/10/07/pdf-life-and-politics-in-times-of-war-the-post-soviet-situation-eastern-europe-and-former-yugoslavia/.

[17] See for instance G. Hetland, Anti-Imperialism Doesn’t Mean Defending Authoritarianism: https://jacobin.com/2020/02/venezuela-nicolas-maduro-imperialism-authoritarianism.

[18] Referring to Leila Al-Shami in The ‘anti-imperialism’ of idiots regarding the war in Syria as the position that “equates imperialism with the action of the US alone” (https://libcom.org/article/anti-imperialism-idiots-leila-al-shami).

[19] See for instance the declarations of the Stop the War Coalition in the UK: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/mar/04/stop-the-war-condemn-invasion-ukraine-warmongers.

[20] “Time for International Anti-War Solidarity,” Соціальний рух (Ukranian Socialists), January 2022, https://rev.org.ua/time-for-international-anti-war-solidarity/.

[21] Russian Socialist Movement & Sotsialnyi Rukh, “Against Russian Imperialism,” LeftEast, April 2022, https://lefteast.org/against-russian-imperialism/.

[22] “The plans for post-war reconstruction did not read like a programme for building a stronger sovereign state but like a pitch to foreign investors for a start-up” (V. Ishchenko, ‘Ukrainian Voices?,’ New Left Review 138, Nov/Dec 2022, https://newleftreview-org.ezproxy.unibo.it/issues/ii138/articles/volodymyr-ishchenko-ukrainian-voices).

[23] Lenin: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/rcp8th/03.htm.

[24] A. Williams, ‘US-Europe trade tensions heat up over green subsidies,’ Financial Times, February 27, 2023, https://www.ft.com/content/0f8bf631-f24c-48da-905f-e37f8dc5d5f8; D. L. Stern and L. Morris, ‘Tensions between Ukraine and Poland over grain hint at exhaustion from war,’ Washington Post, August 12, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/08/12/ukraine-poland-tensions-grain-war/.

[25]  https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0714.

[26] https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3205148/beyond-china-more-nations-reject-us-led-order-2022-will-go-down-year-de-westernisation.

[27] T. Bhattacharya and G. Dale, ‘Is BRICS+ an Anti-Colonial Formation Worth Cheering From the Left? Far From It,’ Truthout, https://truthout.org/articles/is-brics-an-anti-colonial-formation-worth-cheering-from-the-left-far-from-it/ and P. Fletcher, ‘BRICS chafe under charge of ‘new imperialists’ in Africa, Reuters, March 2013, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brics-africa-idUSBRE92P0FU20130326.

[28] https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-remarks-to-the-johns-hopkins-school-of-advanced-international-studies-sais-the-power-and-purpose-of-american-diplomacy-in-a-new-era/.

[29] See Grappi G, Asia’s Era of Infrastructure and the Politics of Corridors: Decoding the Language of Logistical Governance, in: Logistical Asia: The Labour of Making a World Region, Singapore, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, pp. 175 – 198.

[30] The difficulties of this progress are witnessed by the fact that the global Zeitenwende, announced by Olaf Scholz in a now famous article in Foreign Affairs in which he declared the end of an era, has been dubbed Zeitenlupwende, i.e. a moment of stalemate, as much because of the Bundeswehr‘s rigidity in accepting the need for renewal as because of the difficulty with which, at a time of economic crisis, military expenditure can be justified in the face of public opinion that is less and less fond of war itself.

[31] One example is the rounds of strikes and riots that have occupied the sites of global electronics manufacturer Foxconn, but also transport sectors such as railways or, more recently, workers in logistics and delivery platforms. See Pun Ngai’s work and Chuang’s analysis, https://chuangcn.org/2023/04/the-end-of-an-era-labor-activism-in-early-21st-century-china/.

[32] See R. Andrijasevic, D. Sacchetto, From Labour Migration to Labour Mobility? The return of the multinational worker in Europe, Transfer, Vol. 2282), 2016, 219-231.

[33] See https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/workplace/amazon-invests-nearly-1-billion-in-increased-wages-for-operations-employees

[34] TSS Platform, Strike the Giant. Transnational organisation against Amazon, https://www.transnational-strike.info/2019/11/29/pdf-strike-the-giant-transnational-organization-against-amazon-tss-journal/.

[35] See https://hbr.org/2023/09/how-to-address-the-supply-chain-staffing-crisis.

[36] See https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/trade/exports/insights/port-labour-dispute-shows-options-arent-just-for-factories/articleshow/101034199.cms?from=mdr and J. A. Wilson and I. Ness, Chock Points. Logistics Workers Disrupting Global Supply Chains, Pluto Press.

[37] TSS Platform, War Rages On, Anger Grows in Europe. Statement on the French Movement (https://www.transnational-strike.info/2023/04/06/war-rages-on-anger-grows-in-europe-statement-on-the-french-movement/).

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