For a time after the end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, there were claims in the media that there was a US-centered “unipolar world”.
This claim implied there was a “bipolar world” during the Cold War.
What in reality existed during the Cold War was two main nuclear powers, the US and the USSR, that could unleash a nuclear world war that could destroy civilization and wreak massive destruction on Earth.
This resulted not in nuclear disarmament, which was the sane outcome, but a nuclear arms race and an unstable situation of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).
This was not a “bipolar world,” however, because there was a Third World encompassing the majority of humanity. The Third World developed after World War II, when the colonies of the European imperialist powers launched struggles to free themselves.
In this great uprising of the world’s majority, there was the possibility that these fights for national liberation would develop into socialist revolutions.
These struggles took various forms, including protracted wars such as in Vietnam, Korea, and Portugal’s African colonies. As the major victor in World War II among the imperialist powers, the US intervened to thwart the dynamic toward socialism. Where this dynamic succeeded, such as in Korea, Vietnam and Cuba, it launched wars.
The war in Korea was aimed not only against the North but against the Chinese Revolution, which resulted in China entering the war and fighting the US into a stalemate.
In Vietnam, the US first backed the French war against the liberation movement. When the French lost, there was the division of Vietnam and the US war, which it lost.
The other victor in World War II was the Soviet Union. After Washington and London launched the Cold War against the USSR in 1947, the Soviet Union began to support national liberation struggles in Asia and Africa. (Stalin sought to prevent them from developing into socialist revolutions, but that is another story.)
After the victory of the Cuban Revolution, the US sought to overthrow the revolution when it carried out land reform and expropriated US companies, including United Fruit that dominated agriculture. In response, the revolution rapidly developed into a socialist revolution.
After the Algerian national liberation movement defeated French imperialism, it moved in a socialist direction based on worker’s self management under Ahmed Ben Bella, a process that was cut short by a coup led by conservative elements in the Nation Liberation Front.
While the revolutions in China, North Korea and Vietnam overthrew capitalism, the new regimes, led by Stalinists, were bureaucratic deformations patterned after the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution. The Cuban Revolution in contrast was not bureaucratically deformed.
This was evident in Cuba’s foreign policy, which did not conform to Stalin’s and his heirs policy that the national liberation struggles against imperialism stop at independence, and should not become socialist revolutions in a process of “uninterrupted revolution” to use Lenin’s phrase or “permanent revolution” in Trotsky’s words or “revolution en permanence” in Marx’s writings, referring to the way forward after the thwarted bourgeois democratic revolution in Germany in 1848.
Cuba openly called for socialist revolution. The Cuban Revolution ignited radicalization throughout Latin America against US imperialism, which dominated the continent after the Spanish colonies and Portugal’s Brazil won independence.
The US responded with moves to co-opt regimes in Latin America, coups, and military support to reactionary regimes faced with revolutionary movements inspired by Cuba.
Many countries in Africa and elsewhere adopted socialist perspectives although they did not expropriate capitalism.
Without going into this history further, many countries of the Third World became unaligned with either the US or USSR — the Third World.
But the existence of the Third World continues, even though the rich (imperialist) countries continue to exploit what today is referred to as the Global South, in a vastly changed context.
Capitalism was restored by a long process from above in China. The Soviet Union was broken up and capitalism was restored in its constituent countries, organized by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in a capitulation to capitalism. That ended the Cold War.
The imperialist countries announced the triumph of capitalism over socialism. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher coined the phrase “There Is No Alternative to Capitalism”, shortened to TINA.
In the decades since, not only have Communist parties shrunk and adopted liberal politics in rich countries, social democratic parties have moved to the right, and what was the revolutionary socialist left for the most part also shifted rightwards.
The result is that today there are few groups that maintain a revolutionary socialist perspective, and socialist revolution is not on the agenda in the near or medium term throughout the world.
However, the apparent “unipolar world” centered on the United States after the end of the Cold War has seen the US now in a multi-polar world, and struggling to regain lost ground.
The Chinese economy has seen rapid growth as the US and other rich countries shifted much simple manufacturing to China and other low wage countries. China’s GDP has risen to be the second largest after the United States. Washington has designated China as a main competitor, and even as a “hostile” country.
China’s per capita GDP is less than twenty percent of the US’. That explains its low wage status. However, its sheer size, 1.4 billion people according to the United Nations, means it can exert power internationally, and has done so with its Belt and Road Initiative and other economic tools in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
It has also fared better than other Third World countries because the Revolution broke subordination to imperialism economically and politically completely. It also has a large military, and is a nuclear power.
It has been designated by Washington as one of the countries it targets. The other is Russia.
Domination of Russia has been a US goal since the end of the Cold War. Initially, NATO was a military alliance against the Soviet Union. But it was not disbanded, but expanded as a military alliance against capitalist Russia.
The US has expanded NATO up to the borders of Russia, and seeks to incorporate the country with the remaining long border, Ukraine. This has been its stated goal since 2008.
Ukraine had amicable relations with Russia after it gained independence with the overthrow of the Soviet Union. It was agreed between the two countries that the Soviet nuclear arms in Ukraine would be transferred to Russia in return for guarantees that Russia, the US and Britain would not use military force against Ukraine.
In the 1950s, the Soviet government transferred Crimea from the Russian SSR to the Ukrainian SSR. This was scarcely noted at the time, since it remained in the USSR. The historically Russian naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea, on the Black Sea had become a Soviet base.
It was also agreed between the two countries that Russia would keep the Sevastopol base, its only one on the Black Sea. Ukraine had other ports and bases on the Black Sea, which connects to the Mediterranean Sea.
In 2014, the United States, in a block with Ukrainian nationalists, staged a coup that ousted the president of Ukraine. The new government announced Ukraine would join NATO. This would mean the takeover of the naval base by the NATO military alliance against Russia.
Russia responded by taking back Crimea, which had been Russian since it conquered Crimea from the Ottoman Empire in the late 1700s. Its population remained mostly Russian and supported returning to Russia.
The new Ukrainian nationalist government outlawed the Ukrainian Communist Party, made Ukrainian the only official language and launched a civil war against the Russian-speaking east Ukraine, centering on the Donbas, which fought back. The proto-fascist Ukrainian far-right armed organizations, which were prominent in the 2014 coup, formed the Azov Brigade.
The West supported the Ukrainian side, while Russia backed the Russian speaking side.
Largely done by Britain, Ukraine had been massively armed and its military brought into close alliance with NATO after the coup.
The civil war continued, but a front line became stable between Ukraine and two Russian speaking areas that declared themselves independent People's Republics, and which were supported by Russia.
The US provoked Russia with increasing threats to incorporate Ukraine into NATO in 2020 and 2021. This was a deliberate plan to draw Russia into war with Ukraine. The goal was to bleed Russia into submission by a protracted war with Ukraine. This remains Washington’s goal, as was publicly stated by Secretary of State Blinken this year.
This resulted in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Russia had hopes of establishing a Russian-friendly government in Kyiv, a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, but also a colossal military and political blunder.
Putin’s intelligence was way off the mark, as Ukraine had been massively armed by Britain, and drove the Russians back from north Ukraine. The US capitalized on this blunder by rallying West Europe to its side, further expanding NATO, arming Ukraine, and imposing sanctions on Russia.
Russia then retreated to its previous stance in the Donbas and into southeastern Ukraine, seeking a land bridge to Crimea. That is where the main front in the war is today.
US sanctions on oil and gas, embraced by countries in Europe, are causing a big energy crisis in the European Union and Britain. In the coming winter, this threatens to result in massive unrest and demands for an end to the war and arming of Ukraine, which the Ukrainian government and the US fears.
One response comes from Germany, building upon NATO countries’ rearmament, and the non-existent “threat” that Russia will invade Europe unless it is defeated in Ukraine.
Writing in Consortium News, Diana Johnson reports: “German chancellor Olaf Scholz is a colorless Social Democratic Party politician, but his Aug. 29 speech in Prague was inflammatory in its implications. Scholz called for an expanded, militarized European Union under German leadership.
“He claimed that the Russian operation in Ukraine raised the question of ‘where the dividing line will be in the future between this free Europe and a Neo-imperial autocracy.’ We cannot simply watch, he said, ‘as free countries are wiped off the map and disappear behind walls or iron curtains.’ ’’
Scholz said he wanted an expanded EU to include the “Western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldavia and, in the long term, Georgia.”
This would result, he said, in a “stronger, more sovereign, geopolitical European Union” with “Germany in the center.” He also called for “a gradual shift to majority decisions in common foreign policy” to replace the unanimity required today.
Johnson notes: “What this would mean should be obvious to the French. Historically the French have defended the consensus rule as not to be dragged into a foreign policy they don’t want. French leaders have exalted the mythical ‘Franco-German couple’ as guarantor to European harmony, mainly to keep German ambitions under control.”
Germany’s Green Party has jettisoned its advocacy for peace, and is now part of the SPD led government advocating German rearmament to meet the non-existent threat of a Russian invasion. Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock is foreign minister.
Johnson reports Baerbock told the US National Endowment for Democracy sponsored Forum 2000 in Prague on August 31: “If I give the promise to people in Ukraine, we stand with you as long as you need us, then I want to deliver no matter what my German voters think…
“People will go into the street and say, we cannot pay our energy prices, and I will say, ‘Yes I know we will help you with social measures … We will stand with Ukraine and this means the sanctions will stay also until winter time even if it gets really tough for politicians’.’’
The implied threat is repression if demonstrations calling for a diplomatic solution of the war and an end to the sanctions to ease the energy crisis get out of hand.
Will Scholz’s plan for the EU be implemented, with the backing of the United States and Britain?
The war has revealed another aspect. That is that the Global South, representing over 80 percent of the world’s population, has not lined up with Washington, but is “unaligned” and does not support Washington’s sanctions against Russia.
The only countries supporting the US war are in Europe, along with some other US allies, including Japan, South Korea, Canada and Australia.
The countries of the Global South experienced the cruel domination of imperialist countries, including the US, and know that the US supported other imperialist countries in their opposition to the national liberation movements that mobilized in the colonies after World War II. They are loath to support the imperialist countries headed by the U.S. that have joined the war against Russia.
Continued imperialist policies toward the Global South were revealed in “vaccine apartheid” in the COVID pandemic climate change policy.
The death of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and the reaction by its former colonies refusing to go along with the adulation of the Queen, and some renewing demands for reparations for what British imperialism did to them, with some saying they want to end their membership in the Commonwealth, illustrates the point.
Third World countries know that they could be subject to US wars as occurred in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, or its proxy wars like in the Israel-Arab wars or now in Ukraine. They know that economic sanctions could be imposed upon them (some have already been sanctioned) at Washington’s whim.
They know the long history of the US overthrowing governments that opposed US imperialism or were not sufficiently subservient. The Third World still exists and has its own interests.
China, which has become the most economically developed of the countries of the Global South, is the other declared enemy of Washington.
The US has helped form the military alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and the US against China, that could be mobilized in any military conflict with China. An aspect of the treaty is the eventual building of nuclear powered submarines that could reach China without refueling.
The US is provoking China regarding Taiwan. The island was part of China for centuries. In the 1949 Chinese Revolution, the pro-U.S. forces of the Kuomintang were defeated on the mainland and fled to Taiwan. Both sides continued to say they were the legitimate government of all China.
A peace between the two sides was reached in 1979, but a peace treaty was never signed.
The US built up Taiwan’s economy to counter the Communist People's Republic on the mainland, to the point where it is part of the club of rich countries. Today, the government of Taiwan has moved toward independence, although there is still pro-Chinese sentiment in sections of the population.
The official stance of the US has been support for the “one China” policy but recognition of the two governments. The Chinese government still maintains its long term goal of reincorporation of Taiwan in China.
The US hasn’t officially changed its “one China” position, but is provoking China with the visit of the Vice President to Taiwan, and Congressional delegations voicing support of Taiwan, which China regards as encouraging independence, something it would militarily resist.
The US regularly sends warships through the narrow Taiwan Straits. It also challenges China in the South China Sea, where China has built military bases.
If Chinese warships ever got as close to the US as US warships do to China, they would be destroyed. Of course China has no intention of doing that.
It is unlikely that China would be provoked into war over Taiwan, like Russia was with Ukraine.
There are close economic ties between Taiwan and China. For example, Taiwan has become the source of 90 percent of advanced computer chips in the world, including for China. Taiwan exports many products to China, and is dependent on this trade.
The US economy is also deeply entwined with China’s. China has the largest low wage labor force in the world, which US companies are dependent on. All this makes US attempts to block China’s economy very difficult.
The prospects for the attempt by Washington to overcome US imperialism’s relative decline by targeting Russia and China are dim.
A final comment on the US proxy war in Ukraine: the war and sanctions have led to a rush to source new fossil fuel resources by the NATO countries. The promises to deal with global warming have been brushed aside. The catastrophe of climate change looms over the world, along with new dangers of nuclear war.