For an entire liberation movement which has always prided itself with the correct reading of the balance of forces in an ever-changing environment, this conclusion of primary unipolarity and secondary multipolarity is an unfortunate capitulation to parochial liberal theories which history have proven wrong. When all is said and done, this conclusion means we are falling into the trap of the end of history theory which suggests that Liberalism and Capitalism have won, and therefore they have no potential of being replaced by a more progressive mode of production or outlook in the socio-political system of human development.
By Thato Magogodi
(Former Head of Political Education; ANC North West. Writes in his personal capacity)
Reading these balance of forces correctly has always given the ANC an upper-hand because it has always known when and how to act under different conditions of struggle with necessary revolutionary timing. Other liberation movements have either suffered from being dismissed by history as adventurist because they applied certain tactics too early. Or as opportunist because they applied those tactics too late without a clear strategy.
If we study the evolution of the Strategy and Tactics (S&T) tomes of the movement hitherto, from Morogoro to Nasrec, we will appreciate that in the third conference (i.e. Durban Conference) ever to discuss this document, a controversial debate on the international balance of forces arose. The significance of this conference in the history of the movement is that it was the last conference of the ANC before the democratic breakthrough and the first inside the country after it’s unbanning. In the aftermath of this conference there was a school of thought that contended that the international balance of forces was not adequately discussed, particularly because the document did not sufficiently appreciate the shift of polarity, from a bi-polar to a unipolar world due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the United States (US) as a hegemon.
History is repeating itself regarding the debate on the conclusion of the analysis on the international balance of forces from Nasrec. As a historic recurrence, this time around the international balance of forces analysis does not appreciate the shift of power from one pole to many other poles with the dwindling hegemony of the US. On the contrary, the analysis has produced a shift denialist model of primary unipolarity and secondary multipolarity.
Under the topic “Assessing the Global Balance of Forces” it was wrongly resolved that “the world, currently, is characterized primarily by unipolarity and secondary multipolarity” (ANC STRATEGY & TACTICS 2017 ; Pg 18). The key motivation for reading global balance of forces this way is that on the one hand Capitalism is the dominant social system with negligible variants. Furthermore, countries propagating an alternative system are involved in a web of mutual dependence with Capitalism. Secondly, the US has uncontested military dominance. All of which crafts the basis to characterize the world as primarily unipolar.
On the other hand, the motivation is that there are other new and emerging points of growth that are beginning to hold their own by distributing substantive global power but not enough to depose the US as a sole superpower. Similar power is also being distributed into the multilateral system through regional blocks or unions serving only as a limited counterweight to US dominance, all of which crafts the basis to characterize the world as secondarily multipolar.
Looking at the four pillars of global state power, this piece will also unpack the role and nature of power in international relations because this is a topic which a lot of political ideologues have not sufficiently invested in but comment on with unfortunate ignorance. David Baldwin says “ there is widespread consensus among international relations scholars on both the necessity of addressing the role of power in international interactions and the unsatisfactory state of knowledge about this topic” (D.A Baldwin ; Handbook of International Relations, Pg 273 ; 2013).
This is an important debate for any liberation movement, as it invokes a scientific environmental scan. Politico-economic environmental scanning is the process of gathering consequential information that will affect an organization and its objectives as a function of internal and external factors or dynamics. In this regard we focus on the external factors, noting that the internal factors have been sufficiently debated and relatively understood in the ANC of today. In this regard, our angle of externality is specifically couched on the international balance of forces as our area of examination. At all material times, the ANC has to understand how power is distributed internationally, and how it must relate to it without taking its eyes off the historic mission.
THE IDEOLOGY OF HEGEMONY OR PREPONDARANCE
Our simple understanding of the concept of hegemony or preponderance is that it is a state of affairs where a single power has overwhelming influence over others. If this simple understanding is extended to the terrain of inter-state power it will have to grapple with the four key pillars of global state power. These are namely economic, political or ideological, military and cultural power. If a state among many has dominance in three or all of these four ingredients of power concurrently, it is likely to become a superpower.
If there is no other superpower that contests this strength, it is likely to become a hegemonic or preponderant state. In balance of forces terms, this hegemonic state of affairs assumes the character of a unipolar world. This was the case after the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990’s when the US was the most dominant in the four ingredients of power. A situation which led the likes of Francis Fukuyama and other parochial scholars to conclude that we had reached the end of history, and that this US hegemony will never be disrupted in these four pillars of global power.
Treating the subject of the weakness of strong states towards the end of the 1980’s, Fukuyama once argued that the other strong states which posed a threat to US dominance were collapsing because they were no longer appealing to their citizens ideologically. As he had put it “ the critical weakness that eventually toppled these strong states was in the last analysis a failure of legitimacy – that is, a crisis on the level of ideas” (F.Fukuyama, The End of History ; Pg 15 ; 1989). The essence of his argument is that countries like Russia as a leader of the Soviet Union had lost the battle to contest US dominance because their socialist ideas were no longer seen as attractive by the citizenry in the broader Soviet Union and the world at large, which forced Gorbachev to come with his Perestroika and Glasnost Openness Policies leading to a change of ideological outlook in governance. This is Fukuyama’s main argument, which he eventually realized was analytically injudicious.
The fall of the Soviet Union, in retrospect, for everyone who believed otherwise was not a death of the popularity or legitimacy of socialist ideas in the world but just a disruption of an ideological block. Besides Russia, countries like South Korea, Nepal, Nicaragua, Cuba and China still consider themselves as socialist in orientation despite their survival in a Capitalism mode of production. Even though they are involved in a web of mutual dependence with Capitalism as our S&T argues, our theory of revolution teaches us that socialism is just but a deliberate period of transition from capitalism to communism. Furthermore, the fact that a lot of governments have not pronounced that they are socialist has no bearing on the class reality that the majority of the ordinary citizens of the world who are trapped in poverty because of capitalism have now lost faith in it ideologically and are hoping for alternative paths of development.
From a class perspective, the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci crafted the Marxist concept of hegemony to also explain the idea that the ruling class can manipulate the value system and mores of a society, so that their view becomes or looks like the world view. This manipulation was taken further to denote the politico-military dominance of certain states over others. This is the cardinal point that a younger Fukuyama in 1989 failed to observe and therefore erroneously exaggerated the longevity of US dominance. This is the very point the S&T must never miss in its modeling of the current international balance of forces.
Unlike many who ponder over these complex questions in abstraction, Gramsci is believable because he was both an ideologue and an activist at the same time. He was able to combine theory and practice to actualize what he wrote. He did this because he believed the proletariat needed organic intellectuals who emerged from their ranks, understood their issues conceptually and advanced them with a semblance of revolutionary passion and practical method. He wanted to be an example of these organic intellectuals. So when he crafted the concept of hegemony, amongst others, he was creating theory for the purpose of practice, not theory for the sake of it. Now if we use hegemony to analyze the world we must use it to guide action.
If we say that the US is the current superpower (and every other pole of power is secondary) through the “primary unipolar-secondary multipolar analysis” of our S & T document, we must know that we are guiding or misguiding action for the entire liberation movement in pursuit of its historic mission. The direction we take in action must take into account all the hard facts but guided by revolutionary ideology.
IS THE WORLD PRIMARILY UNIPOLAR AND SECONDARILY MULTIPOLAR?
For an entire liberation movement which has always prided itself with the correct reading of the balance of forces in an ever-changing environment, this conclusion of primary unipolarity and secondary multipolarity is an unfortunate capitulation to parochial liberal theories which history have proven wrong. When all is said and done, this conclusion means we are falling into the trap of the end of history theory which suggests that liberalism and capitalism have won. Therefore they have no potential of being replaced by a more progressive mode of production or outlook in the socio-political system of human development.
To consult the classics, it is perhaps necessary to go back to the outline of the 1845 German Ideology tome, specifically in the Eleventh Theses on Feuerbach in which Karl Marx reminds us that “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways, the point however is to change it”. In this outline, Marx is trying to break away from abstract theory into radical historicism, which was the basis for crafting his theory of historical materialism. What is important to lift from this citation is that our analysis of international balance of forces must be realistically consistent with how we want to influence the development of history and force it to move towards the improvement of human life in general within the vision of creating a better world and a better Africa in particular. A revolutionary liberation movement such as the ANC must never accept the hegemony of liberal preponderance as a reality that cannot be altered by exaggerating its influence as we do in the ‘primary unipolarity and secondary multi-polarity model’.
The cardinal point of reality is that the world cannot be both unipolar and multipolar at the same time because these two cannot co-exist. History teaches us that the world can either only be unipolar, bipolar or multi-polar and not two of these at the same time. This “primary and secondary polarity concept” in hegemony is an ahistorical fallacy which will blind any scientific reading of the global balance of forces in an ever-changing environment of global affairs. The world we know has only experienced unipolarity, bipolarity and multipolarity all existing on their own.
The world we live in today by its nature and content is indeed multi-polar given the different pockets of power distribution that exist. Besides the US, China and Russia are powers on their own which have surpassed the US on some of the four pillars of global state hegemony. Multilateral Institutions, multi-national co-operations which influence the policies of other governments are also global pockets of power on their own that qualitatively contest US hegemony.
THE FOUR PILLARS OF GLOBAL STATE HEGEMONY (DOES THE US PASS THE TEST)?
Looking firstly at economic hegemony: Donald Trump, whose country the power of primary uni-polarity is attributed to, is just but a noisy and empty shark with big teeth that has the airtime through US controlled international media to make empty noise. Other global players like Xi Jinping who is a small-looking cone snail with more dangerous harpoon like teeth can excrete a deadly venom called political conotoxin. This toxin can stop nerve cells from communicating with one another and thereby causing deadly paralysis, which is what is proverbially happening in the US-China Trade War as an example in modern history.
In this case, the skin of the US economy has been bitten by the cone snail in China and it is reaching a point of paralysis. The US economy is the most indebted economy and most of this debt is owed to China and Japan which is more than one-third of its foreign holdings. In 2011 the US debt to China was 9.1% which amounts to $1.3 Trillion, but has only been negligibly reduced to 5% which is still huge in economic terms. According to Wikipedia in 2018 China owned $1.18 Trillion of US debt which makes its economic hold on the US more venomous. To illustrate the point further, there are more wealthy people in China than there are in the US. Put in dollar-millionaire-terms there are more millionaires in China than there are in the US as we speak.
Looking at political or ideological hegemony: Firstly, it is becoming clear that the US influence in multilateral institutions is politically dwindling. The recent most glaring case is when the World Trade Organisation ruled against the US in its tariff dispute with China. The US could not use its historic global political influence to sway the direction of the case. Secondly, as one of the great powers in the world today, Russia convened the most successful Summit between a single North Power and African countries collectively in recent history. This was not just based on the mutual economic interests of all parties, but it was fortified by ideological convergence because Russia is currently generally regarded as a progressive country in global affairs as opposed to the US which is seen as right-wing and anti-African in interest. Based on these cases alone it is not necessary to mention that in the UN the US shares power with other members of the Security Council which are treating it with suspicion given the schizophrenic foreign policy choices of the Trump administration as a result of losing political influence in the world.
Looking at military hegemony: The test of military superiority rests on four key issues which are
namely military intelligence, numbers in the land and air forces, the superiority of military
technology and military equipment. Whilst we admit that the US has the most powerful defence
force because of its investment in military technology, equipment and size of the budget we must
note that it is not invincible because, amongst others, of the porousness of its military intelligence
which was exposed by 9/11 and continues to be exposed hirtherto.
Secondly, The People’s Liberation Army Ground Force of China has the world’s largest army with more than 1.6 Million troops giving China an added advantage in the number science of warfare. The US in this regard is number three trailing behind India (with less than 1.5 million reserve and active duty troops put together). China as a technology hub in the world is also using this endowment to advance its army for conventional war purposes limiting the superiority of the US army.
Looking at cultural hegemony: In the late 1980s and early 1990’s there is no doubt that the US was culturally hegemonic. As an example, the US music industry produced one of the biggest Multiple Grammy Award Winners who was the first and only artist to have five of his solo albums sell over 20 million copies worldwide according to Wikipedia, in the huge name that Michael Jackson was. In the television industry it housed Hollywood, which then and hitherto has the biggest television industry in the world. These two industries, amongst others, connived to give the US mammoth cultural hegemony in the world in terms of global influence in soft-power in the period under discussion. All other continents beyond the Americas saw young people hero-worshipping US stars like Michael Jackson to a point colossal assimilation.
However, when we study the world today, the US cultural hegemony has begun to melt. For instance in the African continent, the ascendance of Presidents like Thabo Mbeki brought back the discourse of the African Renaissance which confronted the cultural identity crisis of the African child to a point on reversing the damage. For instance in South Africa social icons like Bob Mabena, wanted to be called Kgomotso Mabena and no longer Bob Mabena, political icons like Sam Shilowa now wanted to be called Mbazima Shilowa which trend symbolically influenced African consciousness as juxtaposed to Americanism and Euro-centricism. Among many such cultural shift engaging efforts in more recent history – the fallist student movement has also called for the Africanisation of Curriculum in tertiary education.
Both the African and Asian continents now have a huge television and music industry that challenges American cultural hegemony. Big music stars like Beyonce are seen coming to Africa to copy the sounds and dance moves like Pantsula dance which is a sign of cross-pollination of ideas instead of assimilation. The African television industry has grown with the rise of Nollywood and Joziwood, with India in Asia also making its global mark through Bollywood. Vietnam in Asia is able to produce international music stars like Suboi with more than 106k subscribers from all over the world. South Africa in Africa has internationally acclaimed music DJs like Black Coffee who scooped a BET Award in 2016 for the best international act. Furthermore, today an African Beauty Queen like Zozibini Tunzi with her non-conformist authentic look and views is able to capture the imagination of world judges at the Miss Universe Contest and return to South Africa with the crown in 2020.
All of this means the influence of television and music is no longer only coming from the US alone. This cultural reverberation of Africanism and Asianism has begun to fortify alternative belief systems and introduce a significant cultural paradigm shift that has reduced American cultural hegemony.
Based on the above we can safely conclude that the world is actually multipolar, as the four pillars of its power have been taken away from the US as disrupted by time and space. Where the world stands today, power is distributed sufficiently in different pockets. These range from the US, other countries like China and Russia, multilateral institutions and multi-national co-operations. In the multilateral arena specifically, beyond the old blocks, the emergence of BRICS serves to shift power from historic pockets giving its member countries a platform to craft their development without the support of the US or the erstwhile all-powerful Bretton Woods institutions.
If the US is not preponderant or hegemonic in three of the four key ingredients of power it cannot be the sole dominant superpower at this current conjuncture of history. It’s location in the distribution of power cannot be scientifically described as primary unipolarity, rendering the other poles of power as secondary. In other words, the US is significantly contested in all four fronts of power pockets except in military power although new military powers are beginning to emerge like China and India with Russia also being an alternative military power.
We must also pre-empt those who may want to abuse the concept of the unity and the struggle of opposites to justify this view (of primary unipolarity and secondary multipolarity) which is a central category in the superior ideological notion of dialectical materialism in Marxism, by firstly clarifying that unipolarity and multipolarity are not necessarily diametric opposites. The point is that these stations (unipolarity as juxtaposed to multipolarity) are not politically situated on the further side of each other when politically analysed from a specified conceptual viewpoint. Put differently they are not the reverse image of each other and therefore to employ them as dialectical opposites is disingenuous to justify their co-existence.