Crisis & power
Towards the actual conjuncture of imperialist competition
Capitalistic world business after six and a half years of financial crisis
This is what the world economic powers, the USA and the EU, have managed: With the sovereign creation and extension of loans in unrestricted amounts, they have stopped the devaluation of bank debts as liabilities of their own state budgets, rescued their ability to pay and that of their business world, and authorized the financial sector to resume its speculative achievements. In this way, they have brought into the world a vast quantity of liquid assets which neither originate from an accumulation of capital nor find use for a “self-sustaining recovery”; which are thus not justified or justifiable by business, but represent mere government deficits and are valid solely on the basis of sovereign command. With this use of force, the capitalist world powers maintain global business life: They finance the functioning of world capitalism by decree.
In the seventh year of the great financial crisis, there exists, once again, good news: The centers of the world economy, the USA and the EU, including even the weakest among the euro countries, are finally recording a degree of economic growth again. And the European sovereign debt crisis seems to have been overcome as well: Even Greece can sell bonds on the financial markets at affordable interest rates. Of just as great significance as the cheery messages, however, are the caveats and qualifications that accompany every announcement of success. Critical considerations focus on the concern that all the positive developments are owed solely to the central banks in the U.S., Europe and Japan with their policies of “easy,” abundant and virtually freely issued money. So it is indeed all well and good that the government debt instruments recently rated as “junk” are again sparking interest. The reason for it, however, is only the cheap tons of money which is finding no better investment opportunity; they are only good because the Fed buys American Treasuries en masse, and the European Central Bank promises to recognize all euro sovereign debts as collateral and to buy them up indefinitely; and that’s bad. The news is good from the stock exchanges on which prices are going up, which therefore shows growth; but that they are also only doing so because of the vast liquidity in the market and the extremely low interest rate is not at all good, even arousing suspicion of a new bubble, which the many skeptics see already confirmed on the German and American real estate markets. There is no sign of the high inflation which was feared and prophesied as a result of the flood of money from the great central banks, and this is at least one bit of good news; so much the worse that virtually no price increases are being registered and therefore deflation is possibly expected, a decline in prices whose danger likes to be explained to the public by the course it takes: a never-ending downward spiral of reluctance to buy because of speculation on falling prices and actually falling prices. And so on.
What the experts post as a plus with a more or less fat minus, as an overcoming of the crisis with persistent risks or as a continuation of the crisis with the first rays of hope, reveals quite a bit about the contradictory situation that the decisive finance capitalists and financial leaders have gotten their global capitalism into. In fact, the single most important lifeblood of the capitalist world economy is not at all lacking: credit is available in spades, on call at any time for lending of all types. However, its source, and here’s the rub, is the national central banks – so not the investment banks which in the normal case create credit out of the capitalistic course of business which they oversee, thereby financing the accumulation of capital and once again, out of the overall successful transformation of advances into expanding capital, generating the financial resources with which they grant loans for further capital accumulation and at the same time bring about their own growth. The central banks of the world’s major economic countries do not fulfill their actual task of securing and supporting the financial sector’s autonomous – i.e., increasing and sometimes decreasing loans according to demand from the business world and the banks’ discretion – creation of credit money by refinancing a portion of it with legal means of payment, certifying it as an impeccable business and government-desired economic activity. Instead, they practically take the place of the private credit creators, who are holding back for their economic reasons, and take over the money supply of economic life because it wouldn’t function otherwise. The “money glut” produced by the Fed, the ECB and Japan’s central bank is the replacement that is authorized and deemed absolutely necessary by the state for the credit that the banking industry usually creates but doesn’t now because it apparently sees no chance to set the growth in motion that capitalistically justifies its advances through normal operations. This already makes it clear that the use of the tons of money from the printing presses of the major central banks is not at all enough for the criterion of capitalistic growth. A “self-sustaining recovery” which would make the issuing of money by the central banks superfluous or lead back to the normal level of proper support of the banking business does not transpire. Also not by the fact that the responsible money guardians arrest the reason for the non-appearance of growth, the productive circle of credit creation and capital expansion, where they have handles to intervene, namely in the price and in the amount of money to be lent: the interest rates are at or near zero, the available money supply is any size desired, and still “the economy will not rebound.”
What “starts up” instead thanks to low interest rates and lots of central bank money are business dealings of another kind: those that have the substance of private money creation and enrichment without the growth of capital.
This includes the previously mentioned boom on the stock markets, which is not a general growth of the companies listed on the stock exchanges, but reflects an admittedly awkward general situation: the lack of better investment opportunities for the existing liquid wealth and the unusually cheap borrowable money. What goes up there is merely the value of fictitious capital which the company represents on the stock exchanges; it increases solely through the speculative demand for such investments and solely because of their price-driving effect. A prime example is the career of an internet platform for mass self-prostitution and rudimentary communication with far greater market value than seasoned automotive companies; and on the basis of a business model – namely, the marketing of its customer data and its access to its customers to companies that expect more sales from individualized, customer-oriented, well-placed advertising – which itself testifies more to the needs of competition between companies for each buyer than to a growth in usable purchasing power and expanding markets. A lot of money flows into corporate takeovers and mergers; specialized financial service firms supposedly haven’t earned so well on the business of arranging such activities in a long time. Here companies do not grow by accumulation and certainly not as an active part of a general enlargement of the functioning capitals, but by merging already existing capital; and when this type of growth through centralization becomes a trend, successfully established companies are not finding opportunities to use their liquid assets and the credit they enjoy for enriching themselves through their own accumulation in a growing business. They scramble to rescue their assets from capitalistic inactivity; that is their offensive approach to dealing with the general over-accumulation of the capitals. The new oil and gas boom in the US looks almost serious and promising next to it: the rapidly expanding business of developing new energy sources through the “fracking” technique. Sure enough, the chance to earn money is perceived immediately and on such a scale that the supply of extracted raw material for energy rises faster than the sales, which are targeting half the world regardless of the fact that it is already very well supplied and furthermore the needed transport routes are missing for the time being and until further notice. The resulting fall in prices causes some calculations and some investors to promptly go bust. This is also not a particularly sustainable capitalistic upswing when speculation flat overruns the business which it aims at.
Something similar has happened to the business with the so-called emerging markets. Money investors in search of rewarding investments have long made use of the “emerging” great nations at the “threshold” of a proper capitalism – India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa ... – as suppliers of capital growth, and have created so much credit there that the currencies of these countries have been upgraded to a level that is dangerous for their export business; the objection is loudly made that the major crisis countries have opened a “competitive devaluation” in the struggle for world market shares and waged a “currency war.” Meanwhile, speculative money capital is again withdrawn from these countries to such a degree that a slump in the economic activity and in the evaluation of the national moneys there is lamented. The reason for this is considered to be the prospect of a change in monetary policy by the American Federal Reserve, that is, a reduction and gradual ending of the buying up of mainly government securities – previously, at a volume of 85 billion dollars per month – and on a cautious increase in the Fed’s interest rate over the zero percent mark. And that says a lot about the calculation that was made by the international financial investment community at the time and is currently being made. The main reason for the speculation on capital growth in the periphery of the world economy was apparently not confidence in a lasting and sustainable recovery there, but more the mismatch between available investment funds – thus financial assets that absolutely need to be used in order to continue to survive as money capital – and the lack of possibilities of expansion in the centers of the world economy. What was then growing in the emerging markets and was used by speculators was quite logically less the business activity on location, even if, to the delight of those responsible, it had actually increased, but the evaluation of the investments which has been driven up by the speculative investments themselves. This speculation is discontinued and with it the economic upswing in the afflicted countries when the chance of a significant return on investments in the financial titles of the world powers of capital appears to be looming. It can’t be the amount of the expected yields that is causing investors to fetch “back” their growing money capital. What distinguishes financial investments in the USA, the euro and other capitalistic first class states is not the exuberant interest rates, but the quality of their issuers: security against the ups and downs of speculation, which the credit and credit money of the world currency nations offer to a greater degree at least than anything else. The boom in emerging markets has apparently lasted long enough for the investors; from a security perspective, it gives cause for concern that one could get oneself into a “bubble” or already has generated one; and the prophecy very quickly fulfills itself: the growth proves to be an exaggeration, the accumulation to be an over-accumulation, to the extent that the money investors rescue their assets from the consequences.
They thus expect security for their money capital from the bonds of the states whose central banks issue the means of business used worldwide. The super-abundantly available liquidity flows mainly into such debt instruments, even into those of euro-zone countries which were virtually bankrupt and whose “junk bonds” had temporarily endangered the creditworthiness of the banks which had too much of it in their books. As a result, nothing has significantly improved in the economic situation of the issuers; the economy has not got properly going again anywhere, and certainly not to an extent that could justify the further rise in national debt by an equivalently respectable growth of national capital. These debts admittedly preserve their quality as expanding money capital and thus their value only because the responsible central banks vouch for it with their interventions in the bond market and purchase guarantees and boost sales with their policies of abundant and cheap money. So the states with the moneys used worldwide transform their own debts into money-capital by the shortest route conceivable, namely by repurchasing or borrowing them through their central banks and having them recognized in this way as money capital, thus acting as their own creditors; in the same act, they justify the issuance of means of payment by their central bank because it purchases and/or grants loans for the state debts which they themselves recognize as money capital. Without any good economic reason, solely through the use of their monetary sovereignty, the states provide themselves with financial means and the financial sector with securities and lots of cheap money which ensures the sale of these investments; through the very same pure resolution they finance their own mountains of debt and the banking industry which is otherwise not in a position to keep going through its own course of business in the circle of credit creation and capital expansion. The financial institutions on their part, which are still not experiencing any recovery on their own that would prove the creditworthiness of their state debtor according to the usual criteria of their speculation, thus become a link in the circular self-financing of the states with the moneys used worldwide and in practice thereby acknowledge the state decree as a business basis, as an effective substitute for a capital growth manufactured by “the economy” itself which still does not materialize. As long as this condition persists, they just take advantage of what the state power offers them. And where it depends on whose decree it is, on the reliability of the sovereign guarantee for the capital value of economically unsubstantiated debts, there is no doubt for the financial markets about the ranking of the capitalist powers.
Under this critical viewpoint, interest is shown in – all the same, but also only – the largest and most potent of all emerging markets, China, which possibly no longer even belongs in this category. Its “people’s money” counts as a candidate – and indeed as the only one worldwide – for the rise to world currency alongside the dollar and the euro and even before the Japanese yen. That in any case is how it is seen by the managers of the established financial centers in Europe, between which a hot rivalry consequently breaks out as to who the government in Beijing will select as the location for the procurement and marketing of renminbi loans. For the money dealers of the world, the opening of such a business is obviously long overdue; it is in any case clear that China’s money owes its value as a reliable representative of capitalist wealth to the size and growth rates of state-owned capital expansion and no longer derives from foreign investment and its large dollar treasury holdings. The fact that the renminbi – in contrast to the euro and especially the US dollar – is a long way from having a volume that has nothing more to do with the size of its domestic economy, floods the world financial markets and dominates the global money business, obviously means that for the international money business this currency still has an enormous amount of “potential” and speculation on a disproportionate worldwide growth of Chinese money capital is found absolutely profitable. It is for this calculus certainly not merely the size of the Chinese economy which is important, but especially the widely observed and noted fact that the Chinese state leadership does not let the US government meddle in its monetary policy, countering its jabs rather with the admonition that America should pay careful attention to the value of its Treasuries: the People’s Republic differs from other emerging markets not just in the impact of Chinese capitalism, but in the sovereignty with which the Beijing government reigns over it.
It’s not just in the crisis that the criterion of the political force of the government debt-makers and money issuers matters to the farsighted speculators in the money markets of the world. Only because it always matters, it becomes so important in the crisis, that the demand for decent returns and for a growth that economically solidly justifies the indebtedness of the leading state powers that manage it recedes completely into the background.
The competition of the great world economic powers for money of the world
For the governments of the world’s great economic powers, it is clear that in bailing out devalued bank debts and dubious sovereign debts with still more state credit creations and in having their central banks transform such credits into liquidity, they are taking official emergency measures against the unchecked progress of the crisis; however, it is annoying to them that the financial sector uses the cheap credit from the central banks for anything but financing a “self-sustaining recovery.” Because they want their creation of money not only to have stopped a collapse of their monetary economy, but to trigger a capitalist growth that makes the sovereignly created liquidity productive, which economically justifies the debts accumulated at the expense of state budgets and so seals the validity of their respective credit money as indispensable stuff of the world’s business and representative of the capitalist wealth thus created. Out of the necessity of crisis management, they make a virtue of competitive struggle: against the rest of the world, but especially against each other, the world powers which have turned out credits in the crisis struggle for a growth which testifies to the productive power of the force with which they keep global capitalism going.
Europe and America pursue their own particular strategies for this:
– The USA as issuer of the established global means of business floods the world with “unsecured” dollars, thus with an ongoing credit devaluation and boundless national debt demands the business world still recognize its credit money without question as embodiment of value, taking for granted the use of its debts as money capital. As a timeframe for and thus purpose of this “easy money policy,” it gives the reduction of unemployment below a certain limit. It is thus about the revival of the nation’s economic growth, and indeed to such an extent that the creation and expansion of credit functions again “by itself,” i.e. out of the self-interest of the private corporate world. A policy of “re-industrialization” of the country as well as renewal of its energy sector, which at the same time also provides the US with control of the world’s oil and gas markets, should bring crucial parts of global business (back) to America. For the purpose of orienting global business life to and for the benefit of the nation, the government pushes ahead with its policy of “partnership” across the Pacific as well as across the Atlantic. The flooding of the world with American credit money should again lead to its profitable use by American money capital.
– Germany as economic leading power of the euro-zone and “export world champion” links the multiplication of unproductive euro debts and euro liquidity owing to the crisis with a relentless competition over the economic justification of the created credits and the unassailable solidity of the money that represents it. It leads this fight with its export successes, which it wants to gain mainly in world business outside the euro zone; the nation wants to be the standard-setting model for its partners, thus to enforce Europe-wide the standpoint and thus the status of successful capital location in global competition. With its political struggle for balanced budgets, against the Euro-partners’ unproductive credit creation, the government makes it clear that the might of supranational credit money is of vital importance.
In the fight to economically justify the credits they have multiplied and kept in force by decree and the international standing of their credit money, the decisive weapon for the world economic nations on both sides of the Atlantic is thus the use of their might to prescribe to other important sovereigns the terms by which they look after their budgets and cultivate their locations. The crisis competition of the world money nations is a power struggle about whose power is recognized as leading and whose is politically submissive.
The big minus points that the financial crisis has produced – the nullification of significant quantities of private monetary capital assets, the masses of more or less worthless securities from bank balances in bad banks under government control and guarantee, the proliferation of sovereign debts, the extent of overdue interest on it that also then increases even if the responsible finance ministers manage something like a “surplus” in their budgets, and especially the bank industry’s futile search for investment opportunities that promise a reasonably successful capitalistic use of the abundantly available credit – : these minus points have not disappeared just because they are neatly recorded and no longer a subject of public attention. The hope of recovery that accompanies the destructive work of the financial crisis almost from the beginning has still not been realized. For the state guardians of the moneys with which the world does business, there is no way around it: with the issuance of credit money in huge quantities and at zero cost as well as with a value guarantee for government bonds, they must ensure that the living lie of finance capital, the equation of debt and money capital, remains in force despite its continued refutation by the crisis so that the global monetary economy can continue to take its course. It is up to them to replace the productive circle of credit creation and expansion, which the private business world still owes, through their unproductive sovereign acts.
For the economic policy makers of the great crisis nations, this is certainly no reason to abandon the living lie which they are responsible for as the rescuers of their great economic systems: that everything they set into the world by decree in financial maneuverable masses so that the world economy generally continues to function is ultimately economically okay, that is, will eventually bring about a real recovery of capitalistic wheeling and dealing. Quite the contrary: precisely because they throw their weight against the “weak growth” of their national as well as international capitalism with the creation of credit on their national accounts and with the provision of credit money in their national currency, they insist all the more emphatically that their creations deserve, far more in any case than those of all other state powers, recognition as source, result and generally perfect representative of a really accumulating capitalistic wealth. The fact that the use of their monetary sovereignty is capitalistically unproductive presents itself to policy managers as the task of ensuring that the use they make of their monetary sovereignty is definitely more productive than anything their competitors bring into being – and especially those that integrate the global economy. With their budget, debt, monetary and economic policies, each of the major states makes use of capitalist global business for the fact that its credit and its credit money is productively used out of economic self-interest as the economically relatively best and absolutely most credible money capital that can be obtained in the world nowadays.
– In this sense, the German government presents its country as leading nation of the EU and unassailable anchoring power of the euro-zone by, on the one hand, drawing a clear dividing line between Germany and the weak neighbors. With the announcement of a “black zero” as a result of its budget accounting, it makes it clear that it creates no unproductive debts, uses the euro strictly in a success-oriented way, and in that respect has not merely a right to lower interest rates for refinancing its accrued liabilities than other Euro-countries, but in contrast to them successfully vouches for the value of its debts and its euro itself. The same evidence leads it to refer to the positive foreign trade balance which contributes significantly to the economic strength of the nation that is essentially manifested in the state budget: its partners’ criticism that the German economy has achieved its export successes at their expense can’t apply; it cites its balanced intra-European trade balance, however that is calculated, as proof that it is not the weakness of the European competitors but Germany’s strong performance in the global markets, in China and the USA especially, that solidly justifies the quality of German capitalism, the nation as capital location, consequently its credit and its euro as world money. It is of course clear and always kept in mind – German critics of Berlin’s euro-politics loudly point this out often enough – that the economic deficits of several partner countries and in particular the large neighbor France are accounted for in the same euro and burden the common currency accordingly. But for this reason it does not remain the case that the German government distinguishes its domestic success offensive from the “mismanagement” of other EU members. It emphasizes, on the other hand, the absolute will to preserve the unity of the euro-zone; and indeed according to its “recipe.” With all its might it explains Germany’s national competitive success and its “black zero” in the budget to prove that it is possible, thus possible for the others, and so becomes a mandatory standard for the rest of the EU. It requires a foreign trade surplus, however that should come about. And as an indispensable guarantee for the value of the debts which are made by the partners and so generously “monetized” by the ECB, it pushes for balanced budgets at any cost. National, quite immediate social emergencies justify no deficit, rather, from Berlin’s point of view, convincingly prove that the loans which are used for it are fully unproductive; it is necessary to save, even if this means a contraction of the economy is planned in the debtor countries. Thus the FRG distinguishes itself as Europe’s leading power, which eschews no impoverishment of its neighbors when and because it serves, in Berlin’s calculation, the economic validity of the long overstrained euro-credits and the international acknowledgement of the inflated community money. The demonstrative proof of a reliable capitalistic foundation of the debts and the euros with which Europe finances its survival in the crisis comes down in the end of course to Germany proving itself powerful enough to prescribe to its partners the binding terms for their budgetary and economic policies, thus for the use of their sovereignty over their respective capital location.
– The US government celebrates the latest sales figures of the American auto companies as proof that the national economy is back again from the crisis. It declares the opening of new energy sources through the “fracking” technique to be the beginning of a boom which turns the global energy market inside out and brings it back under American control, in addition to guaranteeing the success of the re-industrialization of America after years of “exporting jobs” to China in particular. Such a return to former successes has indeed been on the agenda for a long time, thus it has not yet been fully achieved. And if the Fed continues to consider it necessary to issue maybe no longer 85 but still three dozen billion dollars per month for purchasing mortgage-backed securities and Treasuries and “to pump the market” in that way, then it seems that the replacement of a growth-effective private credit creation by the state debt, including its conversion into realized money capital by the Fed, means that the crisis of national capitalism is not yet over. For the government, however, nothing less follows than the task of supplementing domestic reconstruction by intervening in the course of global business life. It assumes with its project of a many nations inclusive, but for the time being China exclusive, trans-Pacific free trade zone – the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP – that much recovery-stimulating business in this region could certainly be obtained but is not taking place and possibly lost to China, when, because, and as long as the People’s Republic’s near and faraway neighbors are not integrated into an exclusive binding community treaty with the US, and indeed with every freedom for the competitive power of American capital; furthermore, substantially more and better business would be done in China itself then, but also only then, when the country feels itself constrained for the sake of its own trade relations to submit to the rules of the Trans-Pacific Partnership which take pinpoint aim against Chinese caveats and particularities. Of even greater customizing is the reorganization of economic relations with the EU which the US aspires to with the project of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP. There everything in state regulations which could somehow impede the competitive power and freedom of capital is targeted in order to create a unified field of activity over the North Atlantic for the largest and most assertive corporations. It is noteworthy that the offer to the European side that America connects with it and that catches on very well especially with the German government, is in any case happily embraced by the Chancellor as if it were the most natural thing in the world: here offers itself – perhaps for the last time – the greatest opportunity in transatlantic cooperation to put the rest of the world before the alternative of ‘submission or exclusion’ and so – something that already no longer succeeds in the WTO – to dictate for a whole epoch the conditions under which global business life is played in total; and before the only all too rapidly growing emerging countries reverse the economic balance of power, deprive access to western free competition or possibly even come to the veteran world economic powers with conditions and regulations on their side. In cahoots with like-minded competitors, the US government wants to create a world business order which brings global capitalism under the regime of the largest, thus fittest companies and thereby inevitably, according to America’s premise, orients it significantly more and significantly more bindingly than before to the benefit of the US economy. How much the experience of the crisis has contributed to this project may be left aside – the programmatic points of the intended ‘economic Nato’ itself are not at all new. In any case, the US government assumes that the prospect of a general global economic growth from which all parties can profit in their national way is definitely no longer sufficient to create a framework of rules that suits America. To impose such business conditions worldwide and set them crisis-proof, it considers agreements necessary, for it takes more than good prospects and diplomatic skills. The negotiations with the Pacific states and even more so with the EU are tests of toughness on the power of the US to force sovereign states, and indeed those that matter, into a behavioral regime tailored to America’s needs. The reward would be a lasting crisis management which makes the dollar-credit again into an advance for a “self-sustaining” worldwide capital accumulation and thereby turns America’s national debt again into economically absolutely unquestionable money capital. What is needed for it is superior force: enough to nail down the rest of the world and especially the allied major competitors to respect America’s right to economic success.
So the competing major powers of globalized capitalism, the USA and Germany as center of the euro zone, each in their own way line up the imperialistic transition as quintessence of their crisis policy: to economically overcome the “end” of the emergency, the “weak growth” of their capitals and the missing capitalistic suitability of their credit-money, it is necessary to clear away obstacles which, in their decisive assessment, other sovereigns with their mismanagement and generally with their authority over a piece of world capitalism represent for the actually overdue successful accumulation of dollar capital or euro capital. The will to economically use the world must prove itself capable of reliably extorting the world of states; not only in the crisis, but even more because of the crisis.
The battle for control of the world of states – or perhaps: The latest from the German-American friendship
The rivalry between the United States as leading power of “the west” and Germany as leading power in Europe and the euro zone in particular follows, with or without a financial crisis, its own logic. This is determined by contradictions on both sides: on the American side, by the annoyance that Germany is useful as a kowtowing partner precisely because and insofar as the country is able to appear imperialistically autonomous; on the German side, by the complementary interest in functionalizing American imperialism by recognizing its superiority and charging support for its own imperialist policy-making powers.
– The USA maintains its status as authoritative trustee of the governing rules of procedure of the world of states quite essentially by means of the identification, definition and handling of disturbances and problem cases. In doing so, and in using its means of force to deal with such cases, it always pursues the overarching objective of containing rivals, functionalizing partners, impressing the rest and marginalizing those who balk. The cooperation of Germany is particularly important because the nation has earned the rank of an imperialist force for order in its own right in an important sphere of influence of the USA and is not only effectively able to counteract American interests there, but also especially able to support them.
– Germany traditionally pursues a double game with America’s world power: As a valuable ally and leading power among the European allies of the US, it uses the so violently enforced rules of procedure for the interaction of states with each other for its economically-based dominance in Europe, which comes close to a peaceful conquest of the continent, as well as for its global influence; it carries out its rise to competitor of American economic power and keeps a calculating distance from the activities and requirements of its strategic leading power, counting on its effectiveness at the same time.
The economic crisis exacerbates on both sides the contradiction between necessary partnership and incompatibility of the respective leadership claims and thus the fundamental conflict of interests between the US and Germany. It splits open, imperialistically proper, especially there and becomes the object of politics when in defined cases it is about the order regime over other states and in particular over their use of force. The list of these cases becomes not only increasingly longer; the cases of conflict and collisions between the aims and methods of American intervention and the expansive interest and striving for dominance of the EU’s central power also become noticeably more explosive. With the Ukraine crisis, the USA carries out the possibly decisive suppression and weakening of Russia and at the same time the restoration of the lost discipline in the transatlantic alliance; Germany needs support from America’s strategic power for the “eastward enlargement” of its Europe as well as the acquiescence of Russia and struggles to rescue the independence of its dependent imperialism.
Anyone who believes that trade and commerce have nothing to do with violence and extortion, or that commerce would be incompatible with struggle, that capitalist wheeling and dealing would compel a peaceful understanding among nations, or any of the other mottos praising the wonderful unity of market economy and civil society, might be emphatically disabused by the Ukraine policies of the German government. The team in Berlin reproaches not only the Russian side of intentionally using the natural gas trade as a political weapon – first with selling at preferential prices which ensnare Ukrainian buyers in political dependence, then with collecting payment, by which Moscow puts pressure on a regime not agreeable to it. They themselves, herein the spokesmen of the whole EU, declare offensive economic sanctions the means to efficiently punish and force Putin’s retreat, because the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation is, in Western perception, if not an act of war, a military act, like the riots and civil war activities in eastern Ukraine which are blamed on the Kremlin as a violent encroachment. Precisely the pleasingly large scale and high quality level of German-Russian economic relations avowedly gives the government a wonderful weapon in hand to inflict more damage on the evil neighbor than a military confrontation would be capable of, such as the notorious rabble rousers apparently imagine – and especially the confrontation which is actually already in motion. Economic disadvantages to its own side are calculated as unavoidable war sacrifices; the economic policy takes over the combat mission, minimizing adverse effects and working out strategic responses. Weakness, like the Berlin strategists accuse the professional agitators of the democratic public sphere and their eastern European colleagues with their civilian response to Russia’s “invasion,” is out of the question in the official German view: What one has in hand thanks to the best of economic relations against Russia is a potential whose application the enemy can’t withstand. For all the calculated hypocrisy that lies in such protestations: it is beyond doubt already clear what the cross-border business of a state power with world political ambition is good for. That they thus have an instrument in hand to break the will of foreign sovereigns is completely self-evident and does not awaken the slightest scruple; that’s simply all part of the services which a decent capitalism owes the state which serves it so successfully. This in any case is just how Germany has brought itself to the leading power of Europe; the discontented EU neighbors to the east may definitely notice that.
On the other hand, anyone who should ever have believed that armed force as a means for enforcing national demands on the outside world of states would somehow be alien to democracy, or if it is used, would then only be the very last resort for the noble purpose of liberating oppressed peoples from bloodthirsty tyrants, is likely to have experienced hardly a month without disappointment in recent decades. The leading power of the free democratic west at any rate shows no consideration here – except for the relationship between self-defined problematic situations and the expenses deemed due. The USA does not make a big secret even of its clandestine uses of force and subversive activities because its interest in suitable relations of force is a priori identical with the fabulous “western values” anyway, and justifies every drone use, any disorder, any arming of foreign troops and gangs and use of them as cannon fodder, every ‘leading from behind’ and certainly each air strike expressly staged for deterrence – and because the world of states also know this, they should beware.
If the German commentary on the Ukraine crisis, also and particularly the official version, nevertheless maintains in all seriousness that the use of armed force for the purpose of changing the political map is not only evil and in no way acceptable when it is done by the wrong side, but is even a return to the happily overcome bad habits of the past century with its world wars, then this surely shows that such a fast-in-the-saddle bias which is capable of recognizing in every pro-Russian troublemaker a throwback to the Red Army and the importance of demonstratively relocating NATO warplanes to the Baltic states and dispatching US warships to the Black Sea is hardly noticed, and quickly forgotten. The clear and one-sided anti-Russian talking points of the new era, in which violent border changes are mega-out, contain still a further message, namely the clarification that against an enemy who makes use of yesterday’s methods, only the same means could ultimately help, which interestingly the progressive powers of the 21st century still have abundantly ready. In the opinion of the NATO bosses, these are not to be thrown away, but ever more of them bought again.
The counterfactual evocation of an epochal turning point that has thrown the classic violence arsenal of imperialism on the dung-heap of history gives, however, a political perspective which the federal government in Berlin again defends with great dedication: Under pressure of the confrontation with Russia, which it provoked but no longer has under control, certainly not since its escalation by the great transatlantic partner, it struggles for its peaceful imperialism, which conquers the continents by means of economic dominance, classifies partner states and an ever more widely defined periphery into a binding legal order that makes Europe not merely into a common market, but a coherent sphere of control basically determined by Berlin. In Ukraine, this German Euro-raison rams against the border of Russia’s willingness to accept the dismissal of its zone of influence and use; that’s the one thing that the Merkel government really holds against its partner Putin. But above all Germany is confronted by the USA and a number of partner states in the east of the EU with the program of not only continuing to weaken Russia, but identifying it as an enemy whose power definitely has to be neutralized and whose influence has to be eliminated. America, together with its eastern European NATO protégés, wants to present Putin with the alternative of either withdrawing from Ukraine, including Crimea, thus capitulating to western claims to Russia’s periphery, or being politically isolated and finished as a respectable counterparty; and for that it threatens not only armed force, but is preparing the residual state power in Kiev for an overdue confrontation. Such an approach is no longer, as America’s militance in the past was often enough, exploitable for the expansion of German influence, that is, as a blackmail demand for German offers to peacefully coopt and restrict the opposite side. It is incompatible with Berlin’s ‘imperialism of the 21st century’; and it is ruinous for Germany’s entire European and world politics because it sets Germany back to the real basis and tacitly exploited condition of its civil leadership power, which it does not have in its own hands. Because here the world power makes it clear: what Germany wields in economic blackmail power and is able to achieve in non-military coercion of foreign sovereigns is based in the last resort entirely on a respect for the world of states before ordering principles of international commerce which in turn are based in the last instance on respect for the power and willingness of the USA to militarily deter and, if necessary, punish insubordinate behavior. America confronts Germany with the fact that it can ultimately afford its special imperialism only as a partner of the USA and supporter of its military world order regime.
The Federal Government struggles with this. It demonstrates complete agreement with the condemnations of Russia intoned by America and affirms at every opportunity an “equidistance between Russia and America” which no one has requested, indeed is really not in question; at the same time, it insists on its style of negotiations, which give the Russian government the chance to avoid the threatened and prosecuted “total isolation.” Not because it has any regard for Putin: it does not want to let the “case of Ukraine” devolve into an oath of disclosure about the dependence of Germany’s leadership power on the requirements of the world power of the west. It fights for the living lie of its imperialism – and has at least one ‘argument’ on its side as to why it can’t simply be ignored in Washington: for its claim, underpinned by military deterrence, that a suitably sorted world of states is something like a universally respected, reliable global business order, the US needs participants, and indeed powerful ones who not only engage in ad hoc “coalitions of the willing,” but permanently and reliably support the alternative “submission or exclusion” which Washington occasionally opens up in order to bring dissenters into line. If the US government takes steps toward that, even terminating the temporarily sought world order political agreement in dealing with the new Russia, then it depends all the more on strong partners and in Europe rather absolutely on Germany’s willingness to take part in it.
Because for all the ‘superpower’ of America’s imperialism, it definitely contains the risk that its militance will undermine its own conditions of success. Last but not least, the USA’s force became world-politically productive by setting conditions on the self-interest of states in which restrictions were connected with chances of success. The confrontations that the western world power opened were always also extortionate invitations to other sovereigns to search for their position of power in the world of states at America’s side, to also thereby stabilize themselves at home and to accordingly reliably align themselves with ‘the West.’ And what the USA has carried out on the basis of such alliances in terms of rules for the competition over the capitalist exploitation of the globe – and after the capitulation of the Soviet enemy with its different economic system, this is really as good as worldwide – calculates on and lives off the fact that the states of the world are bound to them, but also willing to use them for their own interests and therefore also respect them. The USA no longer trusts these rules itself; if it now pushes for arrangements with select partners in which disregard for the interests of weaker competitors should be stipulated as a general measure, then it terminates what was one of its imperialist recipes for success: a global business order which all states do not merely subordinate themselves to, but calculate with their own subordination and whose implementation and shaping they should also participate in. If the US does everything to use the economic relations between sovereign states which have been established on the basis of these rules in order to damage state powers not to its liking – and in the increasingly frequent and increasingly more explosive cases from Iran to Russia, it is no longer about a conflict between systems like in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, but about the resolute interruption of capitalist transactions between mutually useful partners in one and the same capitalist world economy – then it directly destroys the reliability of all agreements and rules that this global economy requires. And ultimately by seeking to define enemies for its most important allies, the greatest foreign beneficiaries of the previously prevailing order which boiled down to a more or even pure dependency on America’s military power and corresponding subordination to it, the USA presents sovereign powers whose willingness to cooperate it needs more than ever precisely because of its distancing from the previously valid global business order and for its work on a new regime over the world of states, with the need to newly calculate not merely how, but whether they can at all reconcile their own raison d’etat with the imperialist interests of the world power.
It is the living lie of US imperialism that its allies, and consequently also its greatest rivals, and the rest of the states of the world ultimately have no alternative. There is no doubt that the USA knows how to defend this lie and is in a position to do so – even in Kiev, without any Ukrainians having ordered it themselves.
Translated from GegenStandpunkt 2-14