The US is still the greatest enemy of human freedom

April 24, 2024
US flag with weapons
Inset: Sam Wainwright

Sam Wainwright is a Socialist Alliance national co-convenor and active in Stop AUKUS WA. In this second part of the interview, Green Left’s Federico Fuentes spoke to Wainwright about the changing realities of imperialism today and what it means for building people-to-people solidarity. Read Part 1 here.

Wainwright will be a featured speaker at Ecosocialism 2024, where he will be speaking on the panel “Against war and imperialism: People-to-people solidarity in the Asia-Pacific region”.

* * *

In general terms, how do you view the current dynamics at play within the global imperialist system?

Western imperialism, with the United States at its centre, still dominates the world. This domination is maintained through economic subjugation and war. However, US hegemony is declining.

This is shown by the emergence of capitalist states pursuing their own interests in contradiction and sometimes outright conflict with the West. While the economies of these states are sometimes more industrialised than most of the “Global South”, their labour productivity still lags behind the economies of the imperialist heartland.

In the past we might have described these states (and their economies) as “semi-peripheral”. This assumes a subordinate relationship with the US. This was never true of the current Chinese state due to its origins in the 1949 revolution, but it did apply to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states.

Furthermore, in countries described as part of the Global South, such as India and Indonesia, we see the emergence of an independent capitalist class that controls the state in its own interests.

These capitalists still have to operate within a world economy, in which Western corporations remain dominant, but they are clearly not the simple comprador bourgeoisie they were 100 years ago.

The determination with which the Narendra Modi government in India has joined with the West in seeking to encircle China militarily while continuing to trade with Russia, is an example of this phenomenon. So too are the refusal of Gulf states, including even Saudi Arabia, to sanction Russia on the urging of the US and the very assertive and independent positioning of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan regime.

In this context, how should the left view the prospects for a multipolar world?

While we might have seen a relative decline in US hegemony, it remains the preeminent imperialist power on the planet. In that sense it remains the greatest enemy of human freedom and for much of the world’s population it continues to play a key role in blocking their peaceful development.

Any weakening of US hegemony that gives more space for revolutionary or transformative movements for change to advance without being immediately crushed or undermined by US interference is a good thing. However, capitalist multipolarity by itself does not guarantee such advances.

Moreover, we can not subordinate the interests of left and progressive movements in countries where the local ruling class is in conflict with the US to the “greater good” of capitalist multipolarity.

The pro-capitalist ruling regimes in such countries are every bit as cynical, violent and self-serving as Western imperialism, even if they are not as powerful.

It would be a fundamental and strategic error to deny solidarity to the Russian democracy movement, independent unions in China or the Iranian women’s movement in order to weaken Western imperialism.

In the longer term this would have the opposite effect and would weaken the left everywhere.

How has this viewpoint been reflected in the position that the Socialist Alliance has taken on Russia’s war on Ukraine?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been disorienting and divisive for the left. The Socialist Alliance opposed Russia’s invasion from the outset and still does.

In grappling with the issue, we have tried to avoid what I would describe as two common simplifications or forms of crude reductionism.

The first is to oppose Russia’s invasion but ignore the obvious fact that Western governments are not supporting Ukraine because they care about international law or the Ukrainian people.

Clearly they wanted to inflict a humiliating defeat on Russia and break up its ability to play an independent role in world affairs. They hope that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his entourage will be replaced with a leadership that completely subordinates the Russian state and economy to Western interests.

The second mistake is to reduce the invasion to a proxy war between NATO and Russia, in which the aspirations of the Ukrainian people are swept aside as non-existent or of secondary importance.

The most extreme expression of this view positions Russia as a standard bearer for the Global South, even if imperfect and admittedly not representing any kind of socialist project. To think that the Russian invasion has advanced the material and political position of the working people of Ukraine, Russia or the Global South is completely wrong.

Furthermore, it has given governments in the West a basis to promote significant increases in military expenditure and a more aggressive posture.

We have seen struggles emerge that do not necessarily have the US as their principal enemies: in Ukraine and Taiwan, but also in Myanmar and Iran. Do you see prospects for building bridges between these and, for example, those of Palestine or leftist movements in Latin America, taking into consideration these movements have different great powers as their principal enemy?

Given the historic weakness of the left and the currently unfavourable balance of forces, it is hard to see such bridges being built in the short term.

Cuba, still besieged by the US blockade and fighting for its survival, is necessarily going to be reserved in criticising Russia. Similarly, it is no surprise that some on the left in Latin America are reflexively sympathetic to Russia because of their experience of US intervention.

Likewise, democracy movements in places such as Myanmar, Iran and Hong Kong inevitably include pro-Western elements or people with illusions in the intentions of Western powers.

Palestine further exposes the very contradiction of capitalist multipolarity.

Saudi Arabia, which refused US requests to increase oil production in order to hurt Russian oil revenues and recently joined BRICS [the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa bloc], was also on the cusp of normalising relations with Israel and has continued to sell oil to it despite the genocide in Gaza.

Israel itself has rebuffed requests to sell arms to Ukraine, preferring to maintain good relations with Russia.

From this swirling mess of contradictions and naked self-interest by capitalist regimes, the only durable and dependable force is working-class solidarity across borders, regardless of whether or not the local ruling class is tightly aligned with US imperialism.

This may be hard to imagine now, but socialists need to patiently and persistently advance this approach in argument and practice. In any case, change may come more quickly than we expect.

[Read the full interview at]

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