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European Imperialism and Imperialist Scission

The postwar vicissitudes of European imperialism - from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951 to the Treaty of Rome leading the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957, and then to the Maastricht Treaty and the European Union in 1992, the euro federation in 1998 and the institutional Treaty of Lisbon in 2007 - provide an exemplary charting of the dialectic of unity and scission of unitary imperialism. The big concentrations of capital, and the powers in their grip, demonstrate the aspect of the unity of the global imperialistic system in its common interest to guarantee the production of surplus value and the conditions for exchange and circulation connected with it, together with the class rule on which it is premised. At the same time, the shares of the world’s social capital and the powers are permanently divided by the scission of the struggle to share out surplus value, markets and sources of raw material.

The alternation and combination of unity and scission, and the contingent prevalence of one or the other side of this movement, mark the times and characteristics of the imperialist contention - that is, between the moments when the prevalent characteristic is competition with peaceful methods and crises and wars are partial within a recognised order, and the phases when the confrontation spirals into the crisis of the world order, then to its breakdown, and even to imperialist war between the great powers.

The notions of the order of imperialism - a given order of the balance among the powers as the outcome of the world contention at the crossroads of history, in the relations of force sanctioned by the great wars - and the notions of crisis of the world order and its breakdown derive from the dialectic of unity and scission. It is the uneven development between the shares of capital and among the powers which regularly undermines the consolidated balances; and it is imperialistic competition - by economic, political and military means - which upsets those balances and leads to new balances of power. The order among the powers is based on imperialist development, but, in modifying the power relations among the imperialisms, this development itself undermines that order; each individual event in the imperialistic clash and competition and each strategic phase in this contention will therefore show a particular combination of the movements of unity and scission of the unitary imperialistic system.

The first steps toward European unity were taken in the 1950s as a reaction of the groups and fractions of the European continent to the most catastrophic manifestation of the imperialist scission, the two world wars in which Europe had destroyed itself. Initially, these first steps toward unity, the ECSC, the EEC and also the aborted European Defence Community, were encouraged or at least tolerated by the United States, the hegemonic power of the new order which had emerged in 1945 from 30 years of European civil war. Meanwhile, America insured itself against the resurgence of a single hostile centre of power in Europe through the Yalta partition and the Atlantic Alliance.

The Yalta order, masked in the ideology and false consciousness of the contraposition between the freedom of the West and the allegedly socialist camp gathered around the Soviet Union, saw the convergence of Washington and Moscow in keeping Germany and Europe divided. The Atlantic Alliance, guaranteeing the safety of Europe with an American-headed integrated defence, kept Germany at bay and averted the possibility of a common European defence union underpinning Europe’s strategic autonomy. According to the famous aphorism of Lord Ismay, the first Secretary General of NATO, the aim of the Alliance was “to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”.

The representation of a bloc vs. bloc scission masked how much unity there was between American imperialism and Russian imperialism in keeping European imperialism divided, and the extent to which the ideology and tools of Western unity were aimed at preventing or delaying the emergence of any distinction of Europe’s economic and strategic interests from America’s ones. European unity brought with it a measure of scission between the two shores of the Atlantic; this is sufficient to explain the regular ambivalence of the United States towards the European process - encouraged in words, but hindered at every important step toward Europe’s autonomy.

In his book Uncertain Allies [2022], Klaus Latres, a German historian now living in the United States, documents the critical juncture of Euro-American relations in the crisis of the 19705 using material declassified in the early 2000s. The thesis is that the 1971 Nixon shock, with the uncoupling of the dollar from the gold standard, the devaluation of the currency and the protectionist raising of customs duties, was a precedent to Donald Trump’s America First stance, while Richard Nixon’s and Henry Kissinger’s politics against “the threat of a united Europe” marked an about-turn in transatlantic relations.

A conversation on March 3”, 1973, between Nixon, Kissinger and US Treasury Secretary George Shultz dealt with the European initiative of the currency snake - the joint Auctuation of currencies - which would be the forerunner of the European Monetary System (EMS). Kissinger, observes Larres, did not see the question so much from the economic-monetary angle as from “a power-political point of view; he disputed the European tendency not to consult the United States and “to act as if the EC-nine were a fully independent and closely intertwined bloc of countries”. If that practice had worked with currency, it would have been extended to other fields: “We’ve always been for integration,” argued Kissinger with Nixon, “but we’ve always seen it as a step towards Atlantic cooperation; [...] and we’ve never interpreted European integration to mean that Europe takes unilateral decisions” on matters which regarded the United States, and also Japan, “without prior consultation”.

In Nixon’s opinion, expressed in a memorandum of March 10th, 1973, the EEC would increasingly set itself against the United States and, if Washington did not act quickly, “a Frankenstein’s monster” would emerge which would be a very dangerous threat to American interests in vears to come. According to Kissinger, in a conversation with US Treasury Undersecretary William Simon, it was a question of preventing “the development of European unity by undermining the European integration process”, without being discovered: the way was to interact with the Europeans “individually” rather than as a coherent bloc. The Germans, he suggested to Nixon, could be induced to “break ranks”.

In the White House, argues Larres, Germany was seen as the weak link in the Western alliance, divided and “ dependent on the American security umbrella” like no other country; a little pressure and a few hints that US forces might be withdrawn could give added weight to the American lines. In any case, “not the support of the European unity process but divide et impera seemed to have be come Washington’s new European strategy”. The Nixon administration “had concluded that European unity in the economic area would definitely work against US interests” whether that was intentional or incidental; it seemed there was no other option than “to throw a monkey wrench into the Common Market machinery, undermining its process of integration”. If it were not possible to block the EMS, Kissinger argued, it would in any case be delayed and made more difficult to implement.

At a conceptual level, Uncertain Allies does not add much to what is already known; American ambivalence towards the European process is well known, including its preference - documented by Lares - for a loose confederation in which the United States’ influence would be maintained. The interest of the reconstruction lies in the vivid portrayal of the direct attempts at interference on the part of the United States, according to lines and practices of intervention which Nixon was concerned to keep reserved from the various administrative branches.

If anything, it can be observed that America’s obstructionist interventions have characterised transatlantic relations for whole political cycles. The integration process from the first attempts of the Werner Plan and the currency snake to the euro federation was to take a quarter of a century and the strategic divide of the collapse of the Soviet Union and German reunification; in 1992, the attack on the EMS pushed the lira and pound sterling out of this monetary system, and had the exclusion of London from the federal process of the single currency as a lasting consequence. In the early 2000s, as the outcome of the Kosovo War in 1999, the European Constitutional Convention had drawn near as never before to a common foreign and defence policy: the 2003 war in Irag and the contraposition between new Europe and old Europe stirred up by the United States froze that prospect for twenty years. Reactivating that same fault line, today’s war in Ukraine promises to condition the plans for Europe’s strategic autonomy for an entire cycle to come, tying them to an asymmetrical Atlantic relationship.

In spite of a certain candour in trusting in the pro-European virtues of a democratised capitalism, Romano Prodi has often revealed an acute perception of power relations, paying attention to important shades of meaning. Interviewed by Corriere della Sera, Prodi commented on Joe Biden’s mission to Warsaw and the meeting of the President of the United States with the Bucharest Format, the nine East European countries belonging to NATO:

“NATO and the EU have never coincided so much as today. If anything, let’s ask ourselves how this is taking place. Let’s ask ourselves why the United States is giving preference to its alliance with the East European countries, why Joe Biden went to Warsaw but not to Brussels. If dividing the nine Eastern countries from the Europe of its founders is a strategy, dramatic choices may soon arise also for our own government.” A united Europe should be in the United States interest. “But I shouldn’t like it to put pressure on Eastern Europe and its nine nations to make the remaining 18 members understand how the Atlantic Alliance should be interpreted. Moreover, this is possible because the EU has no common foreign and defence policy. The United States seems to be betting on a minority group which is, however, mainly cohesive in its hostility to Russia. The difficulties of the European institutions in these years have made these differences emerge.”

Another observation regards American pressures for Europe to align itself with an anti-Chinese policy of containment and technology denial. Here Prodi sees a “chasm” between China and the EU “which did not exist before, and which is opening up today.”

The two US-EU-Russia and US-EU-China dynamics are connected, and both move by trends and countertrends. As regards the Ukraine war, there is no analyst who does not observe the extent to which the conflict has compromised ambitions for European strategic autonomy, or which, in any case, has greatly distanced it in time.

According to IFRI’s Thomas Gomart, in La Croix, the return to a high-intensity war in Europe has made the EU lose the “comparative advantage” on the world stage of 70 years of peaceful development, breaking a Euro-Russian relationship which had a single stake in globalisation. France will have to rethink its “Russian policy” if it wants to have any weight in European security; if Paris and Berlin were right to oppose the war in Iraq in 2003, twenty years later, they have experienced being reproached for their “naivety” if not “complacency” towards Russia. The prospect of a pan-European “security architecture” has fallen through. This could have involved Russia in the idea of a “power Europe” able to emancipate itself from the United States. The aspirations of the East European countries, which joined NATO and the EU precisely in order to “leave the Russian orbit once and for all’, were not understood.

According to Wolfgang Ischinger, writing in Handelsblatt, the United States remains the decisive power in Europe, and the prospect of European sovereignty or strategic autonomy is “a missed historic opportunity.” The Economist puts a damper on the thesis that “a new axis between Warsaw and Kyiv could provide a counterweight to the one between Paris and Berlin:” the “Bucharest Nine” account for only one fifth of the EU’s population and for one tenth of its product. However, again according to the British weekly, the prospects for Kyiv are “long years of heavily armed stand-off” and a Ukraine transformed into a “European Israel.” According to Le Figaro, it does not matter where the next “iron curtain” will fall, whether by amputating Ukraine or on the borders with Russia: in any case, it will take “decades” or “generations” for the new cold war to come to an end.

Two initiatives are acting as a counter-trend in the field of European rearmament. Starting from the need to supply Kyiv with ammunition, the EDIRPA (European Defence Industry Reinforcement through Common Procurement Act) plan envisages a seven-year-long programme of joint purchases. Jonathan Eyal - a director at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) - observes in The Straits Times that this is “is an ill-disguised bid for the EU to acquire new powers”, since until now military purchases were the responsibility of the member states. London-based daily The Times reports that British Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace denounces the risk of an EU group dividing NATO, and indicates as a counter-model the European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI) - an air defence plan promoted by Germany but open to Britain, the United States and Israel, London seems to want to avert a snake aiming at joint war supplies.

The second initiative regards nuclear defence. At Munich’s Wehrkunde Conference, Emmanuel Macron repeated his proposal to give a European dimension to the French force de frappe. According to various analvsts of the German SW Institute and according to Berthold Kohler of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Berlin should decide to accept the proposal for “nuclear sharing”, backing up the American deterrent with the French. The FAZ reports that Macron would also like to link the Europeanisation of the French nuclear deterrent to a negotiation for the Europeanisation of the ESSI. Due to this proposal, nuclear weapons return to the debate in Berlin as has already happened in Seoul and Tokyo.

As regards the novelty of the “chasm” that Prodi sees opening up between the EU and China, Politico - a source leaning towards Anglo-Saxon theses - presents a Europe in gradual alignment with the United States. Signs of this would be the Netherlands’ adhesion to the blocking of exports to China of state-of-the-art machinery for the production of mi crochips, a field in which the Dutch ASMI is one the world’s leading groups, and Germany’s imminent ban on Huawei 5G devices. According to Politico, Washington is tying the opening up to European industry of iRA subsidies for electric cars to the EU’s compliance with technology restrictions on Beijing. This interference, we observe, circumvents and criss-crosses Brussels’ powers. By presenting the chips war as a question of security, the jurisdiction is given to the states and not the EU trade commissioner; Washington is therefore separately dealing with the BU capitals. And, according to Le Monde, the negotiations conducted by Ursula von der Leyen with Biden saw a Europe “which is drawing closer to the United States”, leading to the dissent of President Charles Michel and of various European capitals, among which Paris can be glimpsed.

According to a well-known opinion expressed by Helmut Schmidt in 2003, precisely coinciding with the war in Iraq, Europe’s opposition had succeeded in keeping America from a new “cold war” with China. In Asia, exploratory talks regarding a triple defence agreement between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo are combining with the launch of the AUKUS Pact between the United States, Britain and Australia which will provide Canberra with nuclear submarines. Beijing has responded with its Global Security Initiative (GSI) which had a first clamorous trial run in China’s mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. China sees itself as a force for unity, in the face of an America which has passed to the side of scission since uneven development raised Asia and pushed the United States into relative decline.

According to Luuk van Middelaar in the Dutch newspaper NRC, although different futures are still possible, we are living on the fault line between two epochs, between a bipolar contraposition that Washington is pushing towards and a “multipolar order”. In the opinion of Valdai’s Fyodor Lukyanov, two world blocs are taking shape, with China and Russia on one side and the United States and its allies on the other, like it or not.

There is a third hypothesis, the most probable, that of a long multipolar disorder which would pave the way from crisis to the breakdown of the world order. In any case, twenty years after the war in Iraq, in the new watershed of the war in Ukraine, how much room and how much time does the EU have for the reactive strategy evoked by Schmidt?

Lotta Comunista, March 2023