Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The World At The Crossroads: What Next?

We are living through the greatest revolutionary upsurge since 1848. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are just the beginning. Those revolutions have just finished Act One. There are at least 3 to 4 more Acts to go before they're complete. Algeria, Morocco, Yemen and others are just starting Act One of their respective revolutions. The world is at an historic crossroad. The question is what comes next?

The End of Empire
After centuries of colonial and neo-colonial rule, the countries of North Africa and the Middle East are just beginning to break the chains of Western direct and indirect domination. The liberation struggles against direct domination by European powers of the 20th Century did not achieve the results which benefited the masses. They replaced French and British rulers for venal and corrupt local rulers. In turn, these countries still remained economically shackled to their former colonial masters, as well as to the United States. The French and British empires fell in the wake of World War 2. The United States took over as the leading empire. The revolutions taking shape now are the unmistakable indication of the end of the American empire.

For more than 7,000 years North Africa and the Middle East have been subjects of numerous empires. Egypt itself was a millennial long dynastic empire. Variously the Assyrians, Persian, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginian, Byzantines, Turks, Indians, Spanish, French and British have all ruled and colonised the region almost continuously. At long last, the peoples are the region have the chance to achieve genuine liberation, autonomy and self determination. The United States is the last and most likely final empire to dominate the region.

Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia are the most important outposts of the American Empire. The extremities of the empire are on fire. The United States does not have the economic nor the military means to put out the flames. The presidency of George W. Bush has depleted all the diplomatic capital the US had enjoyed since the end of the Second World War. The empire is being incinerated at its most vulnerable spots. The world is at the threshold of the end of Empire once and for all.

Economics and Politics
It's premature, not to mention reckless for the Egyptians and Tunisians, as well as their supporters elsewhere to think that the overthrow of the dictators is the end all and be all. The recent experiences of Central and Eastern Europe have proven that overthrowing repressive dictatorships do not result in the desired changes. North Africa and the Middle East face profound economic and social inequality. Their economies are basket cases. This has been the result of corruption and graft from the top. The rich countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf statelets have the most staggering levels of social stratification in the world. While these countries sit on trillions of dollars worth of minerals, all the wealth flows to the ruling monarchs and their extended family members along with a few well connected insiders.

As seen in the cases of Tunisia and Morocco, a great deal of the national wealth flows to Europe. For example, 60 percent of all of France's overseas direct investments are in Morocco. In other words, all the capital flows in a circular direction. France invests capital in Morocco, then in the form of profits the capital flows directly back to France. The Moroccan royal family and the elites receive a cut from it. The masses receive nothing.

Egypt under Mubarak received billions of US dollars in foreign aid from the United States. That "aid" simply went to the regime. Mubarak and his cronies took the lion's share while the rest went into the repressive secret police state apparatus.

Simply overthrowing these regimes, however important, will not alone solve high unemployment, poverty and hunger. New economic models will have to be developed and implemented. The Washington Consensus economic model of the IMF and World Bank is the source of most of the social misery in the world. Free market neo-liberal capitalism has proven to be a failure. Any attempt to create an honest and fair capitalist economy will be doomed to fail. This will simply create a new layer of economic elites who will be able to influence politics and in effect create the best forms of government money can buy. Class divisions and stratification will remain. Economic and social inequality will stay the same or possibly worsen.

The Venezuela Model
One of the most frustrating things to deal with when talking to most people about the current economic structure is dealing with the question: "What is the alternative?" It's a valid question to ask. However, when one presents solutions and models, people either can't understand it or dismiss it out of hand claiming that the solutions are "impractical" and "unrealistic". Most frustrating is having this conversation with those from Eastern Europe. The vast majority believed that "communism" didn't work and though they see as capitalism as being much worse, will still insist that there's no alternative. The reason for these responses lies in ignorance of economics, the real experiences of Stalinism. However, most of it stems from propaganda peddled by the media and politicians of TINA (There is no alternative) to neo-liberalism and austerity.

There is one model that works. That is the Venezuela Model implemented by President Hugo Chavez. The revolutionaries in North Africa and the Middle East would be wise to pay close attention to the advances made by Chavez. No economic model is perfect and there will always be contradictions. However, as the world stands now, no country on the planet has lifted so many out of poverty and reduced social and economic inequality as Hugo Chavez.

Indeed, Venezuela has much in common with many countries of the Middle East. It's a major petroleum producer. Venezuela has the fourth largest oil deposits in the world. Venezuela had been a colony of the US for decades. It too had experienced decades of military dictatorship under which a secret police state operated a reign of terror over the population. Like most of the countries in the Middle East, Venezuela had a tiny social and wealthy elite who lived extravagant rich lifestyles while the majority of the masses lived in destitution.

Since 1999, the standard of living has been raised by all indices in Venezuela. Chavez has reduced the illiteracy rate by half. Hundreds of thousands of new homes have been are in the process of being built. Chavez is providing free laptop computers to elementary schoolchildren. Venezuela has the most open and free democratic elections in Latin America. While democracy has been eroded and destroyed in North America and Europe, Venezuela is witnessing the greatest expansion of democracy the world has ever seen since the end of the Second World War. While the US and UK are in the process of eliminating free public education, Venezuela has expanded it. Venezuela leads Latin America for access to universal comprehensive free education.

Chavez has nationalised the banking and energy sector. Most of the proceeds are used to finance the development of housing, free schools and literacy programs. In the areas of democracy, hundreds of community radio and television stations are being set up independent of the government. In spite of all the lies and propaganda concerning Chavez's restrictions on freedom of media, Venezuela enjoys the most media diversity in the world. No other country in the world has the range of opinion, news sources and broadcast programming as Venezuela.

Most importantly, Venezuela has broken off its shackles to imperialism. Chavez dared to stand up to Washington. Washington financed and orchestrated a coup d'etat which briefly overthrow Chavez. However, it was the masses of ordinary Venezuelans that came to his defense and protected democracy in their country. This is the model for a post-revolutionary economic and political system people need to strive for.

West For Dead
The insurgent revolutionary upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East have staggered the capitals of Europe and North America. They have been caught unprepared for revolution and are fumbling and stumbling to react. The average people of the West are confused and not sure what to make of it. It doesn't help when you have disinformation agents such as Webster Tarpley from the Left claiming that these are CIA and US State Department "color revolutions". To add further to the confusion, the mainstream media from the Right are claiming that the revolutions are inspired by "jihadists" and that Osama Bin Laden is going to emerge as the leader of a revolutionary Egypt.

Meanwhile, governments in both North America and the EU are in the final stages of reducing the West to the standards of states such as Mubarak's Egypt. All Western nations are nothing more than electoral dictatorships with a police state repressive apparatus. Democracy is being discarded as being bad for business. In country after country, the politicians in government are ignoring the will of the people. When people peacefully protest, they get attacked by the goon squads. The scenes from outside the G20 summits in Toronto, Pittsburgh and London of militarised police terror against peaceful protesters wasn't any different from Mubarak's attempt to crush the revolution.

Sooner or later, revolutions are coming to the West. The US and Canada will be the last to have them but they are unavoidable. The same economic, political and social conditions which sparked the revolutionary fires in the Middle East are implemented in the West. The only choice people in the West have now in order to defend democracy and human rights is to engage in revolution. Indeed, the ultimate success of the revolutions in the Middle East are dependent upon the victory of revolution over the finance capital dictatorship in the West.

The world is at the crossroads. We are in a period of revolution. The revolutions may or may not be successful in the end. We are simply at the start of a long process. There will be victories, setbacks, upsets and defeats. What is certain is that the world will never be the same again. The vital question is what comes next.

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