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<nettime> lost wars ?
dr.woooo on Tue, 17 Jan 2006 22:47:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> lost wars ?

"Long-Term Strategizing: Anticipating Uncertain Futures"
Kolya Abramsky

+ new virno on post fordism

This text is intended as a contribution to the upcoming PGA chat-meeting aimed at
continuing the process of relaunching the global PGA process on a new footing.
However, rather than addressing organizational themes internal to PGA as an
organizational process, it focuses on long term social, political and economic
themes. As such, it is hoped that it will be relevant not just to those involved
in PGA , but also to other emancipatory global networks in general.

The aim of this text is twofold:

? To pose some long term questions as to the type environment that PGA (and other
global networks) may find itself fighting in the coming years. No answers are

? To propose that the topics in this text form the basis of a collectively
produced bilingual publication (perhaps in the name of PGA?) in time for the next
global conference as an analytical tool. This depends on levels of interest.

 An important task for global networks is to be able to anticipate, prepare and
strategize for future scenarios in order to have the most influence possible in
actually shaping these future scenarios. This implies not just short term
awareness, but also medium and long term awareness. Every time capital and state
power seek to impose a free-trade regime, or an illegal invasion of a country,
they are using force to physically rearrange the world to serve their long term
needs and strategies. Capitalist planners are not thinking just 1 year ahead, nor
even 5 but more likely 20, 30 or even 50 years. If we are to take our own goals of
long term revolutionary change seriously, this presents an important and difficult
challenge to global networks to fight on the same terrain ? our networks need to
(collectively) develop the ability to also think in such a time frame, and have
such long term perspectives shape actions in the short term.

However, this is by no means an easy task for a number of reasons. How can the
future be anticipated, let alone predicted, when by definition it is uncertain and
has not yet happened? Why waste time and energy on speculating about what may or
may not happen at some undefined point in the future, when there are real concrete
needs in the day-to-day present of people?s lives, local struggles which are all
too often life or death struggles? Similarly, doesn?t devoting time and energy to
serious study of the (long term) past run the risk of withdrawing from action in
the present? Furthermore, doesn?t long term strategizing risk falling into the
trap of hunting for new intellectual blueprints dreamed up in offices rather than
collectively through the process of struggle from the grassroots? And, tied to
this, mightn?t such long term strategizing also create centralizing pressures
pushing us to towards new models of vanguardist politics?

These are all very real concerns and dangers. However, the existence of
difficulties and dangers is not in itself a reason for avoiding long-term
strategizing and dismissing it as either unnecessary or impossible. Rather, it
highlights the urgency of approaching the task responsibly, cautiously and in an
informed, open, collective, self-critical, participatory and democratic manner. It
is important that we are able to learn from our diverse yet collective histories,
paying close attention to long term historical patterns, trends and cycles in
order to understand the variety of mechanisms at play in processes of long term
social transformation in the world-economy as a whole. Only in this way will we be
able to even approach anticipating and preparing in the most effective ways
possible for an inherently uncertain future whose outcome we hope to collectively
shape. Many things about the future are uncertain, but what is virtually certain,
is that the next years are not likely to be stable ones. Rather, it is likely that
we will live through rapid changes at the global level. Furthermore, it is
increasingly clear that today?s global struggles are about what form these
long-term changes will take and who will benefit and who will lose from them. This
opens up important new possibilities for our movements, but is also new dangers.

In the last 10 years, decentralized processes of global communication and
coordination between struggles in different parts of the world have played a
crucial role in denouncing and delegitimizing global capitalist institutions such
as the World Bank, World Trade Organization, and, more recently, the War on
Terror. Global networks, such as PGA, have played an important role in this
process. We are now in a very good position to go beyond Business As Usual
politics, and the limits of protest and denunciation, by collectively redefining
processes of revolutionary transformation rooted in the construction of
decentralized and autonomous local alternatives. In many parts of the world,
including Bolivia, Argentina, Mexico, parts of India, etc, such processes are
already underway at the local or national level. Networks such as PGA can play an
important role in ensuring that such local struggles have the maximum
transformatory effect possible on the world-economy as a whole and that their
effects are felt beyond specific locations. This is important, since, in an
increasingly globalized world, now more than ever the idea of Socialism in One
Country, or any modern day reincarnation of this, seems a highly unlikely
possibility. Hence, it is important that PGA?s actions and long term strategies
are situated in an understanding of the mechanisms of long term social change
which are at play in the world-economy as a whole. In particular, this means
paying attention to it?s inter-state system and the world-wide division of labor
at the root of the world-economy, in order to overcome and breakdown the patterns
of hierarchy and division which this division of labor rests upon. It will also be
important to anticipate possible dangers which may lie ahead.

Several important dangers stand out, at the global level. These dangers have been
highlighted by a range of different people and organizations. This includes voices
from anti-capitalist activists, the academy, government policy makers, and also
even from the military and the financial establishments. They are not immediate
dangers, but dangers whose effects may be felt within the next 2 or 3 decades, if
indeed they are felt at all. Perhaps (and hopefully) they will never happen, or
perhaps they will happen far sooner. Furthermore, movements are not passive
bystanders in all this, and to some extent, the degree to which they are likely to
happen or not is likely to be related to how movements themselves act in the
coming years. However, given that it seems widely accepted that at least some
degree of risk does exist, it may make sense for people involved in global
networks to take them into consideration regardless of the uncertainties involved
and despite their lack of immediacy. This text is not aimed at presenting
apocalyptic predictions of global doom, but rather to pose questions as to what
kind of role global networks such as PGA may have in actually shaping the outcome
of long term processes of social transformation and what major obstacles may lie
along the way. The importance of anticipation is crucial, but so too is the issue
of timing. In many ways, despite the urgency of struggles today, we may well be in
a preparatory stage for future scenarios which are even worse. Whatever the
uncertainties involved, it seems pretty clear that the coming years do not promise
honey and roses. Our collective ability to influence future events rather than
being steam-rollered over by them is likely to be highly dependent on the degree
to which we are taken by surprise or are able to anticipate and prepare. There is
little time to lose.

There are many dangers which are already receiving a lot of attention by global
movements. To name a few of them, these include the dangers of continued free
trade in terms of poverty, inequality and exclusion; the dangers of colonial
pillage in terms of military invasions of rich countries against poor countries;
new forms of racism promoted by the War and Terror and so-called ?Clash of
Civilizations?; the dangers of biotechnology agriculture to long term food
security; or the dangers of climate change to the world?s ecology. However, there
are other dangers which are still only being talked about far less. Below is a
very superficial description of four such risks. Some of these dangers are
potentially catastrophic. This text does not claim to give any explanation of why
there is a danger of such scenarios emerging, or of evaluating the risk that they
will in fact happen, since this would require a far longer text than can be read
easily on email. Nor does it aim to discuss possible responses to these dangers
that movements might be able to make. However, at the end of this text is list of
some books and articles where such topics are explored in far greater depth.

Collapse of the US Dollar 

As the most important currency in the world, the US dollar is a double
edged-sword. On the one hand, it is a powerful instrument of capitalist
domination. On the other hand, national economies around the world are heavily
dependent on it, and consequently, the lives and livelihoods of billions of people
throughout the world are also intimately intertwined with the fate of the
currency. However, the dollar?s strength is rapidly waning, and many people think
that it is a matter of time before the dollar collapses. These voices of warning
are coming from both anti-capitalist activists and the global financial community
itself. Several national governments are becoming increasingly nervous about
holding all their reserves in US dollars, and have shifted large amounts of their
holding into Euros. It is widely thought that such a collapse, should it occur,
would have enormous, and highly unpredictable, effects both within the USA, and
throughout the world, especially in countries which are highly dependent on
exporting goods to the USA, such as China. There is a high chance that it could
bring about a global deflation/depression as serious, or perhaps even far worse,
than the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Renewed Military Conflict Between Major World Powers

It is often taken for granted that the age of wars between major powers (such as
the two World Wars) is a thing of the past. Given that nuclear weapons could mean
the destruction of human and other life on the planet, this is a reassuring
thought, but how safe is this assumption? It is worth bearing in mind that the
First World-War was predicted over 20 years in advance by revolutionary movements
and thinkers. Yet, despite years of anticipation and preparation, they were
nonetheless unable to prevent the war. Is there a danger that the War on Terror is
the opening shots of a far greater global conflict? Europe?s rupture with the USA
over the war on Iraq gave visibility to inter-state tensions which had been
brewing for a long time. Trade wars are rife, especially between the EU and USA,
China and USA, and EU and China. The USA and EU, and to a lesser extent China, are
all involved in fierce currency battles. All three regions, as well as Russia,
India and Japan, are in the midst of significant remilitarization processes, and
are in the process of realigning with other major states. Today, as the world-wide
division of labor undergoes a massive reorganization, and rivalry between major
state powers once again intensifies, is there the danger that this could break out
into global war as such rivalry has in the past? Or, has the world-economy
undergone transformations which make such a repetition impossible? This is a
question that is not being widely addressed by activists, but has had some level
of discussion amongst social scientists, especially those investigating long term
social change at the global level. There is very little consensus as to the
conclusions, but, it is perhaps an interesting irony that in February 2005, a NATO
conference took place in which one such social scientist who has made important
contributions to the debate gave a keynote speech on the theme. An important
question is how do struggles for social protection which are based on national
protection help contribute to processes of inter-state tension? A relevant current
example of this is what will be the effects if across the world movements demand
that ?their? governments pull ?their? country out of the WTO, rather than
collectively abolishing the WTO together with people throughout the world? Or, the
popularity of Bush?s protectionist agenda in the USA. Another important factor is
likely to be the degree to which social struggles in China are able to access
global networks of struggle and vice versa, and how relevant these networks are
seen as being by struggles there. However, until the WTO protests in Hong Kong, no
Chinese organization has been on the PGA Convenor?s Committee, nor the WSF
International Secretariat/Council. Neither has there been a Chinese Indymedia or a
Chinese member organization of Via Campesina. This is despite the fact that there
has been a large increase in both rural and industrial social protest in recent
years, a process likely to intensify as China?s membership of the WTO implies a
massive assault on its enormous peasant population. Including social struggle in
China into our global networks presents a very big challenge, certainly not made
any easier by the fact that China is the largest one party state in the world.

Peak Oil and Austerity

Peak oil is being discussed by many people, with a wide variety of perspectives.
Importantly, even major investment bankers in the petroleum sector, and US
security officials are saying that it is a real threat. Because energy is
something so basic to social needs, it is an issue that touches on many other
areas. As such, the issue is not just relevant to people who are working directly
on energy-related issues. The fact that oil production is peaking does not mean
that oil will run out immediately. There are still many years of oil left in the
ground. What it does mean is that oil prices are likely to rise enormously, and
competition for it will increase. Then the question becomes ?who will pay the
costs?? Because oil is a commodity basic to the capitalist economy, rising oil
prices also mean rising prices for other goods. Especially important here is that
it is likely to massively push up the costs of attaining life?s basic needs such
as food and shelter. And, rather than peak oil signifying the end of capitalism as
some have prophesied, it is more likely that capital will try to push these extra
costs onto people throughout the world, both in oil producing and oil consuming
countries alike. We are very likely to see a combination of harsh austerity
programs and rising living costs in oil consuming countries (mainly in the north)
and tougher working and extraction conditions in oil producing countries (mainly
in the South and former Soviet Union). Furthermore, at some point it is likely
that there will be a transition away from oil towards other sources of energy, and
again the question is ?whose terms will it be on?? and ?how long will it take??
Will it be capital intensive, risk intensive technologies such as nuclear as the
current political establishment seems to favor, or will it be renewable energies.
Will it be a long drawn out process that tries to maximize the profits of the oil
corporations who will milk the last oil reserves till their last drop, or will it
be an accelerated process driven by the urgency of climate change? It is not just
a question of technology, but more importantly a question of ownership, rents, and
prices. The transition can not be left to the market. The struggle for
decommodification of energy to ensure that energy is accessible to people,
together with the struggle for energy producers to get higher prices on world
markets cannot be separated from the struggle for a transition away from fossil
fuels and nuclear energy. Perhaps crucial here will be the issue of ownership of
the world?s remaining oil and gas reserves in the next years. It is important that
global networks are seen as relevant, helpful and inclusive by communities
effected by oil extraction, and also oil and gas workers (especially in the Middle
East), and equally important will be the efforts that global networks make in this
direction to include these struggles. Until now, several indigenous peoples?
struggles against oil have been involved in PGA, but there has been very little
inclusion of oil workers except some excellent international networking with Iraqi
oil workers in relation to the war.

Avian Flu

Many scientists, including health experts at the World Health Organization and
health officials around the world, as well as in pharmaceuticals companies, fear
that Avian Flu might soon mutate into a form that could cause a global pandemic
killing many millions of people worldwide. Many peasant communities in Asia have
already directly experienced the effects at the human level and also witnessed the
slaughter of their livestock and destruction of their livelihoods. Should a global
pandemic of Avian Flu actually occur, its effects would be likely to be felt
especially in rural and poor communities, and those already weakened by
respiratory infections or weakened immune systems such as those with AIDS/HIV.
Responses to the threat are likely to include the killing of livestock on a
massive scale, especially chickens and other poultry. This has already occurred in
several countries, including China, Thailand and Vietnam. This forced destruction
of animals may result in a rapid restructuring or agriculture, with little
compensation to the people whose livelihoods are directly affected. There is the
danger that it could result in a very rapid, coordinated destruction of peasant
agriculture, and an extreme concentration of the sector in the hands of
agribusiness companies. With the majority of the world?s population lacking
accessible public health services, basic food security and other forms of social
security, it is hard to take seriously the official governmental and
intergovernmental preparatory measures. The devastation caused by AIDS/HIV serves
as a warning as to how patterns of global inequality shape the deadly effects of a
pandemic, and the dangers of leaving prevention and treatment in the hands of the
market at the mercy of pharmaceuticals companies backed up by global trade

The failure of official institutions to deal with the above dangers adequately, or
even to further increase their likelihood, may lead to a massive and rapid
collapse of legitimacy of official power structures, at all levels, locally,
nationally, regionally and globally. Such a crisis of legitimacy could
simultaneously present both massive opportunities and massive dangers to
emancipatory movements. On the one hand, it offers the chance for movements to
involve increasing numbers of people, on the other hand it also opens up enormous
space for far right ideas and practices. Emancipatory movements will need to be
prepared for sudden and unexpected mass events that have not been organized by
?activists?. An important recent example of this are the riots that recently took
place in France. The response that emancipatory movements are able to make in such
circumstances is likely to become increasingly important, and the failure of
adequate responses will have very far reaching effects.

Each of the above dangers raises a series of questions for movements in general,
and perhaps especially for global networks such as PGA. However, this text does
not attempt to explore possible responses, since they are questions that require a
more collective approach. However, if there is a decision to make a PGA
publication based on these themes, it would make sense to also explore some
possible responses. The idea of such a book would be to contribute to such a
collective discussion process within our movements.

Useful Reading: The following is a list of books and articles that explore the
above issues in much greater depth. They are from a range of different, and
sometimes contradictory, perspectives.

General Analysis of Long-Term Social Change and Long-Term Perspectives on the
Current Situation:

Arrighi, Giovanni: 2005: "Hegemony Unraveling," Parts 1 and 2, New Left Review 32,
March?April 2005.

Bell, Peter and Cleaver, Harry 2002: "Marx?s Theory of Crisis as a Theory of Class
Struggle" in The Commoner, Autumn 2002, here (originally published in Research in
Political Economy, Vol. 5 1982).

Bunker, Stephen and Ciccantell, Paul 2005: Globalization and the Race For
Resources, The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Cleaver, Harry 1979: Reading Capital Politically, The Harvester Press, Brighton.
Complete document available as pdf file here .

National Intelligence Council 2005: Mapping the Global Future: Report of the
National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project. Complete document available here.

Wallerstein, Immanuel 1995: After Liberalism, The New Press, New York.

Wallerstein, Immanuel 1998: Utopistics ? Or, Historical Choices of the
Twenty-first Century, The New Press, New York.

US Dollar and Related Topics:

Arrighi, Giovanni 1994: The Long Twentieth Century: Money and Power and the
Origins of Our Times, Verso UK/USA.

Duncan, Richard 2005: The Dollar Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Cures, John Wiley
and Sons, Singapore.

Dur?n, Ramon Fern?ndez (English version forthcoming, Spanish version Virus 2005),
Global Finance Capitalism and Permanent War: The Dollar, Wall Street, and the War
Against Iraq.

Gowan, Peter 1999: The Global Gamble: Washington?s Faustian Bid for World
Dominance, Verso London/New York.

Harvey, David 2003: The New Imperialism, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Marazzi, Christian 1977: "Money in the World Crisis: The New Basis of Capitalist
Power," Zerowork 2, available here.

Rivalry, Protectionism and World War

Arrighi, Giovanni and Silver, Beverly (Eds.) 1999: Chaos and Governance in the
Modern World System, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, USA.

Caffentzis, George 2005: "The War on Terrorism and the US Working Class," and "Is
Truth Enough?" in No Blood for Oil! ? Energy, Class Struggle, and War, 1998?2004,
published as an ebook by radicalpolYtics.org. Complete document available as pdf
file here.

Goldstein, Joshua 1988: Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age, Yale
University Press, New Haven/London. Complete document available as pdf file here.

Goldstein, Joshua 2005: "The Predictive Power of Long Wave Theory, 1989?2004,"
speech prepared for NATO Conference on Kondratieff Waves and Warfare, Covilha,
Portugal, Feb 2005. Available as pdf file here.

Polanyi, Karl 1944/57: The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic
Origins of our Time Beacon Press, Boston.

Silver, Beverly 2003: Forces of Labor: Workers? Movements and Globalization Since
1870, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Silver, Beverly 2004: "Labor, War and Politics: Contemporary Dynamics in World
Historical Perspective," in Unfried, van der Linden and Schindler (Eds.) Labor and
New Social Movements in a Globalising World System, 2004. Available as pdf file

Peak Oil and Global Energy Shifts:

Caffentzis, George 2005: "No Blood for Oil!: Energy, Class Struggle, and War,
1998-2004" published as an ebook by radicalpolYtics.org. Complete document
available as pdf file here.

Keefer, Thomas 2005: "Of Hand Mills and Heat Engines: Peak Oil, Class Struggle,
and the Thermodynamics of Production," MA Thesis, York University, Toronto.

Podobnik, Bruce 2005: Global Energy Shifts: Fostering Sustainability in a
Turbulent Age, Temple University Press.

Avian Flu:

Davis, Mike 2005: The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu, The
New Press, New York.

* - / \ | ^ ^^^^

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