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  • Owen Thomas Webb

The Changing Face of Internationalism

Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq

It was once written that the emergence of liberal democracies all around the world represented the end of history. The argument, by Francis Fukuyama, was that the ‘unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism’ that was both the cause and effect of the Cold War’s ending, also represented the end of society’s evolutionary cycle, that capitalist liberal democracy was the final form of human civilization.

This is proving itself, in the wake of restored political nationalism and economic statism in countries such as Russia, India, and China, to be an incorrect assessment. Both the present nationalism and statism are phenomenons which might be best characterized by the ongoing ‘de-dollarization’ of the world’s ascendent economies in favour of trade being conducted on a more bilateral, less global basis. This means that more and more of the world’s nation states are increasingly using their own currencies to trade, at the expense of the once supreme US dollar. This represents a dramatically changing status quo, the ending of an age when the United States was placed at the centre of nearly all affairs as a global centre of power due to its economic model being the last man standing in the wake of de-communization. Arguably, the de-dollarization of global trade represents the end of the age of globalized economics, and the de-Americanization of global affairs.

This raises the question of what will follow it. What comes after the de-dollarization and de-globalization of economics? And what does that even mean? De-dollarization refers to the declining importance placed on the US dollar in trade. Previously, the US dollar was the only currency in which trade was conducted between nation states because it was, and remains, the worlds reserve currency, meaning that as a currency the US dollar has not functioned as a normal national currency, at least not for a long time. The importance placed on this currency is declining, with trade deals being struck between Eurasian and South American countries that can be fulfilled with national currencies instead, such as Yuan-Real based agreements between China and Brazil and the Yuan and the Ruble being used to conduct trade between China and Russia in increasing quantities. What comes after de-dollarization, after the United States no longer occupies a place as an effective third-party in the economic affairs of the rest of the world, could be described as a new form of internationalism. In this form, relations between countries are bilateral and, for the most part, independent of third parties, contrasting the globalized state of economics today, where everyone is dependent on someone else at some point through a global supply chain of raw materials, manufacturing, and consumption.

Internationalism is usually thought of in the context of international socialism, a loose connection of twentieth century movements notionally founded to connect socialists from one country to those in another and facilitate equal relations between socialist countries. Or it could be remembered in the context of the partisan freedom fighter-style of international socialism that is associated with Kim Il-sung, who spent much of his early career in China and the far east of Russia as an asylum seeker escaping from Japanese persecution. This era of internationalism ended some time ago, to all intents and purposes, and the post-Cold War primacy of the United States has centralized the world’s financial economies on the US and on the dollar— the world’s reserve currency. This era too is now ending, in part because of the return of the internationalist movement, but this is no longer a socialist movement. The de-dollarization being carried out by Eurasian economies such as the Russian, Indian, Iranian and Chinese economies, but likewise by South American economies such as Argentina and Brazil, between whom a common currency has been proposed, is part of a capitalist internationalism, not a communist one. Nonetheless, it is an internationalism that contributes to the project of multipolarity, of which Vladimir Putin has talked for decades, in contrast to the unipolar state of economics that the last thirty years was characterized by.

It is correct to assume that this apparent new era of multipolarity brings with it the potential for conflict of a militaristic nature as well as an economic one. Part of the undeniably substantial resurgence of the Russian economy, which has recently risen to its highest place globally in the history of the post-Cold War Russian Federation, is the renewed market for weapons of war, particularly in the market for large quantities of heavy equipment in which Russia seems to specialize. Examples of this include the purchases of T-90MS tanks, an export hit for Russia, by Egypt for 500 such tanks and by India for 464 more, taking India’s total of T-90 tanks up to more than 2,000 of these machines. Running on the same theme, Russian aviation firm Sukhoi has recently fulfilled orders for Sukhoi Su-35 aircraft to Iran, and continues to offer the same aircraft to China, a previous customer. This demonstrates that multipolarity is not an entirely peaceful project— if that was not obvious. It also demonstrates that multipolar capitalism shares a something with communist internationalism, that being a collective preparation for conflict with the powers whose interest is in maintaining the status quo, namely the United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union, to whom the post-Cold War situation of dominance was ideal. The reason this situation was beneficial to the West was because the US dollar was unchallenged as the common currency of global trade, and this helped to maintain a particular world order in which the United States could wield disproportionate power over world economics and use that power to occupy the top position in the global supply chain. Without the power to sit at the top of the global supply chain as it presently does, the West is weakened, like it was when supply chains were broken by the shutdown of East Asian ports in 2020.

The internationalism of the coming era is inevitably imperfect, motivated by a wish for capitalist multipolarity by the quickly developing economies in Eurasia and South America. It is not the internationalism that was built on communist optimism, but instead an internationalism built on the need to exclude manipulative foreign powers from the trade of countries outside the notional first world. This is certainly a new face for a new era of Cold War politics, but the moves made of late make it clear that this West-skeptic collection of countries must be taken seriously as the founders of an altogether more complicated time in world politics than the one which we in the West have gotten used to.

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