Magazine article Monthly Review

What's New in the New World Order?

Magazine article Monthly Review

What's New in the New World Order?

Article excerpt

One is tempted to respond that there's nothing new in the New World Order. There isn't even a new world order. And for that matter there isn't any world order at all.

On the other hand, it does make sense to speak of a new world disorder dating from the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of the Cold War. Before that the situation in the world, very schematically, was that there were two superpowers at the head of two blocs, the imperialist bloc, and the Soviet bloc, plus the third world. The third world was and still is basically dominated by and dependent on the imperialist bloc but has been in a state of chronic and fluctuating rebellion ever since the Second World War.

There were always conflicts and contradictions within the two blocs, but during the period of nuclear stalemate they were muted and under the control of the respective superpowers. From the beginning the United States arrogated to itself the task of keeping the third world in its place, while the Soviet Union gave limited and cautious support to third world rebellions as a tactic in its struggle with the opposing superpower. The result, of course, was a continuing series of wars, overt and covert, that began in China even before the end of the Second World War and have been going on ever since, with no end in sight.

That situation, I suppose, could have been called a world order of sorts. At least there was a kind of uneasy equilibrium among the major powers that fought in the Second World War, and it lasted for the better part of half a century.

With the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union's renunciation of its role as a superpower, all that changed. Some of the major developments that characterize the current scene are the following.

First, the Soviet bloc simply disintegrated, with the status of the component parts still being unsettled and unpredictable. Some are gravitating toward the imperialist bloc, others toward the third world. In the Soviet Union itself, the articulate sectors of the population are for the most part capitalist roaders, but the objective conditions are not present for a reconstruction of the society on capitalist lines. It may be a long time before we know what kind of a society is going to emerge and what part it will play on the world stage.

Second, in the imperialist bloc, the Cold-War glue that held it together for four decades is obviously losing its strength. There has not been and most likely will not be anything like the disintegration of the Soviet bloc: the various components all share a fundamental interest in preserving the imperialist system. But their relative strengths have been changing for a long time, with Japan and Germany gaining on the United States both industrially and financially. The arrangements of the Cold-War period are clearly outdated and obsolete; struggles to redefine the relations among these three top imperialist powers are developing and will be of crucial importance as far ahead as it is now useful to try to look.

Third, conditions in most parts of the third world have been deteriorating for at least the last decade, and any temptation to speak of stabilization, still less improvement, must be firmly resisted. But the elimination of the Soviet Union as a source of support for anti-imperialist struggles has been a serious blow to third-world aspirations, and it seems clear that for the present at least and perhaps for some time to come the tide of rebelliousness in the third world will be at a low ebb compared to the norm during the cold-war period. …

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