consequences of U.S. warmaking

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at
Mon Feb 3 08:42:54 MST 2003

Paul Flewers writes:

Living in Britain, I am all too aware of Prime Minister Blair's servile
attitude to the USA, but I am also concerned that opposition to US
policies can take the form of a pan-European imperialist outlook, as I
reckon that whatever happens with the war against Iraq, one major
longer-term consequence will be growing transatlantic tensions, Europe
versus America. Socialists in Europe must not capitulate to this.


We have to face the fact that there is no such thing (as yet) as a
pan-European imperialist rival to the US, whatever paranoid delusions people
like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz may have. The only (and hardly insignificant)
way in which "Europe", as imperialist, punches its weight is in the arena of
trade, and the US is presently assembling a giddying array of bilateral
trade deals in order to circumvent the one arena in which Europe's weight is
most effective -- the WTO. Meanwhile the WTO is drowning in a sea of
paperwork and low morale, as evidenced by an on-going work-to-rule among its


Without sufficient military clout (a long way off, whatever the intentions
of European imperialists), there is no way that "Europe", as imperialist
rival to the US, will be able to challenge US imperialism for leadership of
the global imperialist chain. What we have instead is a bunch of
sub-imperialists torn between European integration, preservation of
perceived autonomy, and subservience to the US. Formerly the latter was
associated with European integration, given the EU's original purpose as a
Cold War bulwark. However, with the collapse of the Soviet bloc the EU, in
US eyes, is less a strategic partner and more a strategic rival, so the US
now exploits the very forces it once conspired to defeat: namely,
Euroscepticism within EU member states. And just to make things even more
difficult for would-be "Festung Europa" types, the US actively encourages EU
expansion, knowing just how diverting the process of integration will be --
indeed possibly fatal. As Bernard Cassen argues in January's Le Monde
Diplomatique, the US routinely promises EU membership to prospective
candidate countries it seeks to exploit for its own imperialist ends, as
with Paul Wolfowitz's recent visit to Turkey.

Therefore, much as I understand the fears of any re-runs of Kautskyism, I
don't foresee the dangers of social patriotism at a pan-EU level just yet,
or indeed for the foreseeable future. It's not for nothing that people like
Jürgen Habermas are devoting time and attention to invigorating the EU
project with some sort of ideal, analogous to "the American dream" (don't
scoff). The fact is that the would-be social patriots themselves know that
their goal is at best a distant one. So let's not overplay the "Europe as
unified imperialist" card.

Instead, let's see some of the advantages that might accrue from further
European integration. From a British perspective, this may prove hard.
Firstly, what exactly is a "British" perspective? Itself the product of a
once highly successful imperialism, it is now an antideluvian relic
presiding over a long-running decline in which desperate efforts at
resurrection via modernisation projects forever invoking the glorious past
are doomed to inglorious failure. But this is the state, surely, not the
perspective. Exactly -- whence does such a perspective come? From the organs
of state that used it to cobble together its motley collection of sub-states
and thereby co-opt the ruling classes of these (and the labour aristocracy)
into the imperial project. "Britishness" is in fact far better understood by
the non-English -- it's either something to be achieved or emulated, or it
is something to be rejected, to be cast off. What needs better appreciated
by all is that anti-Britishness is in no way to be equated with
anti-Englishness. Far from it -- what is required is the reconstruction of
Englishness free of its British imperial deadweight legacy.

Europe presents a means of achieving that goal, via the dismantling of the
oppressive unitary state from above. Of course that's hardly working class
revolution, but the unravelling (however slow) of the unitary state presents
opportunities to the left heretofore underappreciated. What the "British"
left must do is to escape from Britain and become simultaneously
English/Scottish/Welsh/Irish and European, thereby working in tandem with
the European left within the pan-EU apparatus of state to secure reformist
gains whilst continuing the long-term work at grassroots level to advance
the cause of socialist revolution. And whatever the state of transatlantic
rivalry, the biggest obstacle to that cause is and will be, for the
foreseeable future, US imperialism. Why else would the Scottish National
Party, edging ever closer to majority status, suddenly decide to revise its
long-term opposition to NATO membership whilst donning the mantle of
free-market entrepreneurialism (in stark contrast to only four years ago
when Alex Salmond was promising higher taxation to pay for public services
whilst condemning NATO's "act of unpardonable folly" in Kosovo)? Hardly for
fear of offending Whitehall or Westminster. Washington, however, is a
different proposition. And as US hegemony looms ever-larger on the world
stage we of the metropolitan states, sub-imperialist though these may be,
will be as subject to the diktats of the IMF and the "international
financial community" (i.e. US ratings agencies like S&P, Fitch, Moody's) as
any weaker less developed country. It's happened already in "Britain" in
1976 and Portugal in 1977. There's no reason that it should not happen
again -- look out, Germany.

Instead of cowering in fear of a potential pan-European imperialist outlook
(itself an extraordinarily distant prospect, given the lack of agreement
among the sub-imperialists themselves), we ought to be working towards a
pan-European left that builds on the gains of the welfare state and
environmental regulation. These, of course, are hardly sufficient of
themselves -- Europeans are going to have to change their consumption
patterns rather drastically if ecological catastrophe is to be avoided. But
it's time to recognise that, among the consequences of U.S warmaking, a
growing global unease with not only US imperialism but also our general
dependence upon exploitative relationships (North/South; ecology) is
providing a golden opportunity to mobilise within and outside the state
structures available to us, whilst the latter themselves are undergoing
profound change. In the British case, that change is a slow but inexorable
disintegration, and the "British" left would do a global service were it to
assist in hastening the death of perfidious Albion and, to use Tony's
phraseology, recognise its European destiny.

Michael Keaney

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