In fact, countries that have openly decried US unipolarity align far more with its global imperial order than any supposed multipolarity. States from different geopolitical blocs have designed policies modeled after the US-led “War on Terror.” Some countries are establishing relations of domination toward racialized minorities within the boundaries of the state, or what Pablo Gonzalez Casanova calls “internal colonialism.” Ethiopia, for one, has closely supported the US during its Iraq War operations, now rebranding “War on Terror” rhetoric in a genocidal offense against Tigrayans. It does so by peddling anti-Western rhetoric out of one corner of its mouth while demanding more debt restructuring from the World Bank from the other. Meanwhile, China is incorporating former Blackwater associates into Xinjiang security centers while adopting Israeli counter-insurgency methods to police Uyghur and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The technologies that emerged from China’s brand of “War on Terror” are also now used by the Malaysian government to surveil undocumented Muslim migrants.
These regimes are often seen as part of an anti-imperialist bloc opposed to the US, but as Salar Mohandesi remarks, “it is precisely because the state is so thoroughly riddled with contradictions that imperialism often takes such contradictory forms.” But while Mohandesi cautions against assuming that imperialism can be reducible to traditional forms of capital accumulation, his case may be overstated. Much more than ever, we see new, intertwining relationships between state and capital, which should call for us to update how and where we can locate expressions of imperialism in these new configurations. For one, China’s desire to entrench itself in the global neoliberal system drives the country closer to international multilateral institutions (a reality that Amin predicted), which comes into tension with China’s fiery rhetoric against the US and the West. Touted pro-global South programs like the New Development Bank co-finances most of its projects with the financial entities that it purports to challenge, while promoting corrupt loan deals while systematically neglecting to consult populations in need. The World Bank-led Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) has been one of China’s main solutions for African countries like Zambia and Angola that are heavily indebted to it since the pandemic: merely offering debt suspension, not relief. And while the debt relief China recently promised to African countries is welcome, the fundamental structure of financial extraction of African countries for global capital accumulation remains untouched. The details of Chinese loans have always been obscured as they often go toward funding developmental projects with minimal environmental or labor standards. As Beijing now courts such countries like Saudi Arabia to join BRICS, any coherent conceptions of progressive multipolarity – even by the lowest standards, as political economist Patrick Bond describes – threaten to crumble into “an ideological and functional member-mishmash beyond any logical comprehension.”
Not only has a more equitable multipolar world failed to emerge, but this new configuration of global imperialism is also innovating techniques centered on the managing power of “infrastructure-led development,” from China to various regional and mid-sized states. In other words, not only is the state form—including in the Third World—failing to serve as a vehicle to develop anti-colonial sovereignty of oppressed peoples, but is actively being pulled to facilitate new forces of global capital accumulation. As Ilias Alami, Adam Dixon, and Emma Mawdsley observe (building on what Daniela Gabor labels “the Wall Street Consensus”), the “global dynamics of capital accumulation” have pushed the state further “as promoter, supervisor, and owner of capital,” in the form of “modernising state-capital hybrids … that mimic the practices and organisational goals of comparable private-sector entities, adopt the techniques of liberal governance, and are broadly market-confirming.” This attempt to “preserve and further enshrine the centrality of market regulation in Development in an age of rising state capitalism and turbulent geopolitical reordering [require] the uneven and combined development of more muscular forms of statism and the expansion of state-capital hybrids.” And so, what we see is the increased role of sub-imperial actors in helping to bolster the functions of capital in the name of public-private partnerships and other developmental innovations.
Rather than reversing the global structures of inequality, these developments signal new technologies of exploitation to the working-class. Alami and Dixon note how what they term “uneven and combined state capitalist development” has become an increasingly preferred mode for nation-states to help expand the operations of capital. More precisely, many states are increasingly willing to assume financial risks to bolster the power of institutional investors directly within national development projects to manage and contain labor power. In recent years, the central levers of global capital accumulation have shifted from shareholders into a few asset managers, like Blackrock and Vanguard, the latter now being one of the largest shareholder blocs in both Exxon and the Chinese state-owned Sinopec. Not only do infrastructural development projects like the Belt and Road Initiative fail to challenge global imperialism, but they also represent new forms of financial capital that work hand in hand with various nation-states and their state banks (such as public-private partnerships). The even larger implication is that the left’s opposition to multipolar imperialism should not only address the role of the Great Powers, but also mid-sized and regional powers as key facilitators of global imperialism.
Uneven Authoritarianisms and Anti-Authoritarianisms
What Alami, Dixon, and Mawdsley see as growing but unevenly “muscular forms of statism” points to a fundamental motor of imperialism that Amin and many others have observed but failed to rigorously address: authoritarianism. While Amin recognizes democratization as fundamental for socialist multipolarity, his political recommendations focus purely on economic policy adjustments. However, he correctly notes that “authoritarian structures here favour comprador fractions whose interests are bound up with the expansion of global imperialist capitalism.”3Amin, Beyond US Hegemony, 107. Indeed, this perspective has been consistently downplayed in many contemporary Marxist discussions of imperialism, especially among those who are keen on maintaining the traditionally imperialist transfer of value from the peripheries to core. Instead, we must recognize how growing authoritarianisms around the world are a symptom of inter-imperialist competition between nation-states. In order to maintain their positions in an imperialist world-system, each of these nations are compelled to exploit workers, at times strengthen austerity measures, and contain their independent movements to benefit from the developing global dynamics of capital accumulation.
The refusal to actively resist the authoritarian tendencies of regimes like China, Russia, Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Iran structurally prohibits us from organizing against imperialism as a global system. Focusing on only certain aspects of US influence at the expense of addressing the complicity of other states in the global economy—working alongside the US’s other aspects of dominance—only selectively critiques global imperialism. Indeed, the mainstays of the anti-war left are forced into a position that centers only on dismantling US militarism while unable to offer positive support to democratic movements in other regimes as they grow closer to capitalist economic integration. Holding onto an analysis of “delinking” from the global economy without an understanding of political democracy would fail to check the growing forces of authoritarianism that make it difficult to promote a more democratic multipolar world. For one, the autocratic Eritrean state, which had been militarily assisting Ethiopia’s genocidal campaign against Tigrayans, has received praise from some pro-state overseas Eritreans. “Anti-war” outlets like Black Agenda Report and Black Alliance for Peace praise Eritrea as one of the few African countries to reject the US and other forms of Western aid and influence, lauding its “anti-imperialist” stance. Their failure to account for the Eritrean regime’s gross autocratic excesses demonstrates the limits of such anti-imperialism that remains silent on this regime’s containment of independent working-class power.