In response to my post and announcement that mentioned the participation of China in the development of alternative international structures by the governments of the South, Alan Spector, Past President of the Association for Humanist Sociology, posted the following message to the Progressive and Critical Sociologist Network discussion list.
With all due respect to those forces who oppose US and EU imperialism, and furthermore while opposing the anti-China sentiment being promoted by some sections of the USA, it is still necessary to understand that major economic and political forces from China are engaging in some rather nasty forms of imperialism in Africa. Some might have argued that the USA 100 years ago represented an anti-imperialist force against Britain and much of Europe, but since then it became obvious that the USA was capable of vicious imperialism. I would be a little cautious about praising the current Chinese government for being an ally of the oppressed and exploited of the world.
An analogy between the United States 100 years ago and China today is interesting. Certainly, both the USA then and China today can be seen as in the early stages of a project of ascent. But the historical and global context is different. The United States had begun its ascent in the eighteenth century on the basis of geographical expansionism, super-exploitation of slave labor in the Caribbean and the US South, and the beginnings of US imperialist penetration in Latin America and the Caribbean (see “Slavery, development, and US ascent” 8/30/2013; “Cotton” 9/9/2013; “The origin of US imperialist policies” 9/18/2013; “US Imperialism, 1903-1932” 9/19/2013). At the dawn of the twentieth century, the United States could envision its continuing ascent through the deepening of imperialist penetration in colonized and neocolonized regions, and thus imperialism emerged as the foundation for US foreign policy during the twentieth century.
But the possibilities for ascent through imperialist penetration are much more limited today, as a result of the fact that the world-system has reached its geographical limits, and thus is itself facing a structural and possibly terminal crisis (see “The terminal crisis of the world-system” 3/28/2014). As a result, China sees a different road to ascent: relations with semi-peripheral nations that also are seeking ascent, on the basis of the more equitable relations upon which all insist. China, although a larger and more powerful nation that has never been colonized, has in common with other semi-peripheral nations the persistent struggle for autonomy in the face of European expansionism. For China, the most practical strategy in the present global context is to cast its lot with other semi-peripheral nations seeking ascent, who see the defense of their national interests as requiring the democratic transformation of the world-system. Recognizing that there is strength in unity, the semi-peripheral nations also are inviting the poorer peripheralized countries to participate, nations that also have been victimized by the same process of Western colonialism and imperialism.
In following a different road, the emerging semi-peripheral nations are redefining the meaning of ascent. Rather than pursuing national interests through superexploitation of labor in other lands and at the expense of other nations, the emerging nations seek national development through cooperation with other nations, seeking to identify forms of economic, commercial, and cultural exchange that are mutually beneficial, and to develop political alliances on this basis. They are following a logic of national development that is integral to a process of change that seeks a more just and democratic world, recognizing that the neocolonial world-system has reached the geographical limits of the earth and has surpassed its ecological limits, and appreciating that the utilization of structures of neocolonial exploitation as a basis of ascent is no longer possible. In the present historic moment, advances in development for any nation have to occur on a foundation of cooperation with other nations. Not recognizing this fundamental fact of our time, the established global powers continue to aggressively pursue interests through super-exploitation of the peoples of the earth, and in the process, they are establishing the foundation for a new form of fascism or an era of chaos.
So there is emerging a global project from the South that seeks to develop an alternative to the North American-European-centered neocolonial world-system. China, Russia, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and others are among the principal actors in the creation of alternative international structures (see “A change of epoch?” 3/18/2014; “Is Marx today fulfilled?” 3/20/2014; and “The alternative world-system from below” 4/15/2014).
Alan is not necessarily among them, but many people believe that “power corrupts,” and to believe that every powerful nation will be imperialist is perhaps a social application of this maxim. The notion that persons with power and governments of powerful nations invariably ignore universal human values is a cynical and pernicious belief, for it implies that a more just and democratic world cannot be created. Against this notion, I maintain that the Third World revolution of the last 200 years shows that there are persons who possess power in the form of charismatic authority who are committed to universal values, and that there have emerged governments controlled by popular social movements that have acted in accordance with international norms and democratic values. And I maintain that the structural and possible terminal crisis of the world-system is establishing conditions that favor this possibility. Today, as the neocolonized peoples of the earth are in movement, proclaiming that a more just and democratic world is possible and necessary, we intellectuals of the North have the duty to recognize and support this process, helping our peoples to cast aside cynicism and to embrace hope.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, China, ascent