New Era for Aussie and NZ Imperialism
Philip L Ferguson
PLF13 at SPAMstudent.canterbury.ac.nz
Thu Sep 30 21:59:01 MDT 1999
Jose G. Perez writes:
>I differentiate between two DIFFERENT periods in the imperialist epoch.
He indicates one was from 1898-WW2 and the other after WW2.
I roughly agree with these two frames, but there is a third now: the
post-Cold War/post-boom world.
There really is a new world order, and among the features is that the
imperilaists can intervene whenever and wherever they like, usually with
very little opposition. In fact, it is often the liberal-left which
screams the loudest for intervention and the old right which is less
enthusaistic - this was certainly the case in relation to Yugoslavia.
>What makes Australia and New Zealand imperialist countries is their
>insertion into this imperialist system.
Nope. They *are* certainly inserted into the imperialist system. But so
is the entire world, one way or another. If Argentina or Thailand or
somewhere else was "allowed into the club", this would still not make them
Imperialism refers to *the highest stage of capitalism*. Australia and NZ
are among the most capitalistically *developed* countries in the world. It
is *primarily* this which makes them imperialist.
>The "imperialist system" in the narrow sense I'm using
>it here is not just an "objective" reality. It is a policy choice by the
>major and minor imperialist states made quite some time ago about how to
>handle and structure their affairs.
Imperialism as a policy choice? I wonder what Lenin would make of that?
He argued it was the highest stage of capitalism, the stage in which
capital can no longer operate purely on the basis of its own laws of
motion, but where capital has become a barrier to itself and therefore has
to start negating its own laws of motion. The characteristics of
imperialism are the set of mechanisms thrown up as capital seeks to escape
its own laws of motion.
This is an objective process, not a policy choice. The *policy choices*
are simply the crisis management policies cobbled together by capitalist
governments when faced with the problems characteristic of the imperialist
>I don't think Australia has "taken the lead" here in any politically
>significant way. The military operation is simply the continuation of the
>whole policy course imperialism adopted to extricate Indonesia from East
Australia is most definitely *taking the lead* in east Timor. This does
not mean, of course, that they don't have the backing of the US.
However, it is important to recognise just how much has changed post-1990.
I'll give you a couple of examples which might make it easier for you to
recognise since they involve bigger imperialist fish than Australia and NZ.
In the period from 1945-late 1980s, Germany, although the powerhouse
economy of Europe from about 1960 onwards, never took any political/foreign
policy or military initiatives. It could not. In the late 1980s, however,
Germany recognised Croatia, at a time when the US and Britain still
favoured the mantenance of Yugoslavia as a federal state. The German move
*forced* a change in policy in London and Washington, and they had to then
go along with the break-up of Yugoslavia, and run quite fast for a while to
make sure their interests there were reworked.
In the 1960s and 1970s and most of the 1980s, it was inconceivable that
Bonn would ever take such an initiative.
Example 2: Japan. Throughout the same period, Japan never took any
initiatives either. Today there are Japanese troops abroad for the first
time (Kampuchea), the Japanese have on several occasions told Washington to
get stuffed, especially on economic policy, again something inconceivable
20 years ago.
In the post-Cold War and post-boom period we are living in now, the old
rules and old framework is breaking down. Individual imperilaist countries
are forced to take new initiatives of their own, break rules, etc.
We are still in the *very early* phase of this - the dominant trend is
still to try to get agreement, to act as an imperilaist untied front and so
on. But the trend for lesser imperialist powers to start making some
running is becoming more and more evident.
This is especially the case in the Third World, because few Third World
countries have the means to take on a First World country. Argentina, for
instance, is one of the most developed Third World countries, which gave me
some hope they might give the Brits a bloody nose in 1983, but, of course,
the Brits had little trouble in winning in the South Atlantic.
Now, to return to Australia and New Zealand. They have actually been
playing more and more of a role in the Asia-Pacific arena and they do have
*distinct* interests there. The biggest chunk of NZ's trade these days is
with Asia, not with traditional markets in Britain. NZ has substantial
investments in parts of ASia and also encourages substantial Asian
NZ also has substantial interests in the Pacific. And here is another
example of how things have changed post-Cold War/post-boom. NZ *always*
supported French occupation of Kanaky/New Caledonia and 'French' Polynesia
and French nuclear testing, apart from some token oppositon to the testing
during the 1972-75 Labour government.
But NZ now favours independence for both French Polynesia and Kanaky/New
Caledonia and the (Tory) government of NZ led a vigorous political
offensive against French testing back in 1994 or 95. Members of the Tory
government even went off on protest boats to the testing zone, and called
for the French to fuck off out of the Pacific. Some of the most right-wing
politicians in NZ were saying this stuff. (And it wasn't because they were
forced to by 'mass protests' - the biggest protest in NZ against French
testing in 1994-95 was a meagre 500 people.)
The New Zealand ruling class has changed its attitude to France because in
the post-Soviet world, the old imperialist club is no longer needed in the
Australia and NZ are learning how to flex their own muscles and develop
their own interests.
> Did Australia "take the lead" in steering the world imperialist club
>in this direction?
Of course not. I have said *repeatedly* that Australia has been in a game
of catch-up. East Timor is where they are learning the method and lingo of
'humanitarian intervention' which is imperialism's catch-cry these days.
>The Australians may be "running the
>show" on a day-to-day operational level for the blue helmet force, but they
>certainly are not and will not be running the show at the policy level.
>That's being done by Kofi Annan and his staff in New York,
Jose, you seem to lack an appreciation of the importance of 'running the
show on a day-to-day operational level'. If this was as unimportant as you
suggest, then some Asian minion country would be doing it.
In fact, this is not the case. The imperialist force is run by the
Australians, backed up by the NZers. Moreover the fact that about *half*
of the NZ Army is going to be deployed there within another month or two -
yep, *half*, which is also more NZ troops than in Vietnam - suggests that
running the show on the ground is *very imnportant*.
If you really believe that Kofi Annan is running the show, you really do
not understand much about the UN or Kofi Annan's (lack of) importance in
the overall scheme of things.
Canberra and Wellington may not be Washington and Bonn, but they are a bit
more significant in the big picture, certainly the big picture unfolding in
Timor, than Kofi Annan. And if you think that John Howard or Jenny Shipley
give a stuff about Kofi Annan, and wait by their phones for his
instructions, you are very naive and deluded indeed.
Go back and look at recent "UN" interventions in the Third World, like
Bosnia, and then tell me how "Kofi Annan and his staff in New York" ran
>But if the United States refuses to commit to, say, a
>divisional-scale operation, the Australian government would almost certainly
>have to give it a pass, too, even if it had the troops (which it clearly
>does not today).
At present there are no US troops, and no sign of any turning up in East
Timor. Far from "giving it a pass", Canberra and Wellington have got the
bit between their teeth and making a good run of it. And this most
certainly *is new*.
This doesn't rule out the possibility that a few months down the track
Washington may decide it wants a bit of the action or wants to muscle in
and whip Australia and NZ into line. The inter-imperialist world has its
own pecking order.
But even should they do this, the Timor intervention still marks a new
development in the role of Austrlaian and NZ imperilaism in the region,
just as Germany's recognition of Croatia, and some recent activities by
Tokyo, mark new departures for them.
Like I have said before, you have failed to grasp the geopolitical
significance of the end of the ColdWar/Soviet bloc and end of the boom. We
are in the early stages of something new.
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