The Irreversible (but Laborious) Construction of a Multi-Polar Order

24 September 2019 —

Atilio Borón

Ismael Hossein-zadeh, an Iranian-born Kurdish economist and professor emeritus at Drake University (Iowa) wondered in a recent post why China, India, Russia and other countries do not challenge the tyranny exerted by the US over the institutions that monitor, regulate and control the functioning of the international economic and financial system such as the IMF, the WB, the WTO, the Bank for International Settlements (Basel) and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).(i)

What he points out is a striking and at the same time worrying paradox: the infinite unilateralism sung in the hymns of the “new American century” has come to an end and is irreversible. In economic terms, in international politics and even in the military field, those dreams that, because of their childishness, provoked Zbigniew Brzezinski’s mocking smile, vanished forever. Today China is the planet’s economic locomotive, Russia has risen from the ashes produced by the collapse of the USSR and India has become a technological and economic power of the first order. However, Washington retains the monopoly of the crucial institutions that establish the rules of the game and organize the functioning of the international economy. In an increasingly polycentric world, the United States still retains, at this institutional level, the power and prerogatives it acquired in the construction of the post-World War II world order. Power and prerogatives that allow it, for example, to apply severe economic sanctions to countries whose wealth Washington desires to seize (Venezuela, Iran, Iraq); against tough global competitors such as China or Russia; against countries such as Cuba, Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which are considered bad examples because of their national self-determination, their social and cultural achievements, or their geopolitical importance.

Hossein-zadehse’s answer diverges into two arguments. One: the classist coincidence between the interests of the new oligarchies of the countries that constitute the fundamental nucleus of the polycentric system -the supposed “challengers” of the imperial order- with those of their US counterparts, all united in the eagerness not to endanger the navigation of the boat of global capitalism because its sinking would entail enormous complications for all. Of course, in their countries, those new elites are confronted with social and political forces of a nationalist, anti-imperialist and even anti-capitalist character whose activism can only be assimilated in a context of economic growth and stability. For the moment the correlations of force have favoured the former but the radicalised sectors have not disappeared from the scene and a global economic crisis could catapult them to power. This community of interests between the declining world hegemon and its challengers has led Washington to continue to arbitrarily set global standards in areas such as trade, investment and finance to which everyone must submit, albeit reluctantly. Moreover, it succeeds in getting its competitors in the global geopolitical arena to provide lukewarm, if not complacent, solutions in areas such as the often lethal economic sanctions set by the White House or imperialist ‘regime change’ projects directed against some countries. The cautious reaction to the “economic war” and the blockades against Venezuela and Cuba, and before that, against Iraq, which resulted in eight hundred thousand deaths, is proof of what we have been saying.

This is one explanation. The second is related to the profound, up to now impregnable, hegemony that neoliberalism holds as an economic and political philosophy in almost all governments and educational institutions. According to our author, it was promoted and disseminated on an unprecedented scale all over the world and its theoretical premises and paradigms of macroeconomic management were consolidated as indisputable “common sense”, even among progressive and left-wing economists. This is because the textbooks and reading materials of most of the departments of Economics, even in countries critical of capitalism, are clearly written within the frameworks of neoclassical economics and neoliberalism. Hence, the Iranian economist points out the nefarious role played by the “experts” and the officials of the economic sphere in those countries, either all of them, or the majority of them, trained (or rather, “formatted” their minds) in the dogmas of neoclassical economy, and one of the crucial premises is that there are no alternatives to capitalism and that the only reasonable thing a country can do is to accommodate itself in the best way to its requirements and especially to those of the planetary guardian of the system, the United States.

A Latin American experience convincingly corroborates this hypothesis: the case of the Banco del Sur. It was created on December 9, 2007 in Buenos Aires and although it was born with the enthusiastic support of the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, the Banco del Sur never fully got underway. The reason? Sabotage suffered by this initiative at the hands of the “second lines” of their respective governments: the presidents of the central banks, finance ministers, finance secretaries or other economic officials, all of them trained in the neoclassical manuals referred to above, who placed all manner of supposedly technical obstacles as well as legislation to thwart this great idea. The presidents made one decision; their economists, colonized by the conventional knowledge of their profession, made another. And they got away with it.

To sum up: in the nascent polycentric system, there is a silent global geopolitical struggle in which, alongside confrontation and conflict over interests, there is obedience and submission of emerging powers to the neoliberal order imposed and ruled over by the United States. This situation is constitutively unstable, furrowed by growing contradictions and whose outcome is at best uncertain. But, meanwhile, the declining course of US domination still has the strength to preserve its dictatorship in the regulatory bodies of the international economy. The definitive construction of a genuinely multipolar order must, sooner rather than later, put an end to that closed preserve from which the United States struggles to maintain a predominance condemned to disappear.

[i] Available at:

Translation by Internationalist 360° 

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