From the "trade war" to the global economic war

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Capitalism is leading us rapidly to ecological collapse and into an abyss of greater violence, authoritarianism and inequality. To dismantle it, accurate diagnoses are necessary about its internal dynamics (main bets, limits, conflicts), which allow us to put bats in the capitalist wheel while promoting alternatives that put life, work and the common good at the center .

But it is not a simple exercise. We live in an uncertain and over-complex system, in which the speed, scale and interdependence in which stories, processes and actions are developed make it difficult to produce accurate X-rays of what happens to us.

In the economic sphere, until the financial explosion of 2008, a multilateralist consensus prevailed in the hegemonic agenda, which was committed to accumulating trade agreements, mega-projects and international organizations in favor of the global market. Today, however, concepts such as trade war, protectionism, tariffs, military-industrial complex, energy dispute, fourth industrial revolution (4RI), etc. are current. And these define the current situation, within the framework of aeconomic warfare on a global scale.

Are we witnessing a turn in the hegemonic agenda? Have the treaties lost their strategic role after the freezing of the TTIP and the advancement of governments like Trump's? Is a de-globalizing scenario being consolidated in which state protectionism prevails? Are tariffs the center of the dispute between corporate-regional blocs?

To answer these questions, it seems necessary to discern what is relevant from the media, to make the analysis of reality more complex. In this spirit, we approach the challenge of defining economic warfare as an undeniable phenomenon, but one that we must place within the hallmarks of current capitalism.

When we talk about economic warfare, the first thing that comes to mind is a dispute between blocs (the US, China and the European Union, mainly at the hands of their transnationals), also crossed by conflicts between different types of capital (financial, industrial-military, digital, extractive, etc.). This being the commonly accepted meaning, it is only one part of something broader: the real economic war in force is the one that capitalism as a whole is waging against the working class, humanity and the planet itself.

Capitalism is going through a particularly critical moment, in which the scarce expectations of reproduction of a huge financial surplus are joined by the unquestionable decline of the physical base on which the system operates. How to sustain capital accumulation in a context of low growth, how to do it with fewer material and energy resources, and also in a context of climate crisis, defines its great present paradox.

To try to get out of this, it launches a virulent offensive in the form of 21st century capitalism. Its main objective is to break down any barrier (geographical, political, sectoral) to capitalist commodification on a global scale. Everything, in this way, must become a space for capitalist accumulation. Nothing, to the contrary, can impede the natural flow of trade and the security of investments. And as this bet has a limited scope, it is intended to initiate a new expansive economic wave from the hand of the 4RI (artificial intelligence, robotization, automation, etc.), which allows to exponentially expand the productivity and the sectors of reproduction of the capital of the hand of digital mega-companies.

This and no other is the main exponent of the economic war in the making: the conflict between a cannibalistic capitalism —which exacerbates its dictatorial, unequal and unsustainable matrix— and life itself.

However, the current situation also exacerbates intra-capitalist conflicts. Those in power compete for the shrinking pie of economic growth. These are conflicts that do not call into question the capitalist offensive —at least for the moment, without ruling out hypothetical war escalations—, delimiting their dispute within the framework of certain current structural patterns. We highlight three, which define the framework of what is possible for intracapitalist economic warfare.

First of all, finances are the greathegemon, imposing on the system as a whole its short-term, unstable and self-regulated nature in its favor on a world scale. There is no capitalist agenda that does not adapt to this pattern, to a greater or lesser extent.

Second, economic chains are structured in global logics, based on the control exercised by transnational companies. The interdependence of agents is very significant; every measure in a territory (tariffs, interests, exchange rates, etc.) has a global response and boomerang-like side effects, which makes an open and total war difficult where all parties have much to lose.

And third: capitals as a whole are aware of the ecological and accumulation crisis, so the real confrontation focuses on materials and energy sources, on the one hand, as well as trying to take the lead in advanced sectors of the 4RI (data, artificial intelligence, digital commerce), on the other.

Therefore, the intra-capitalist war is inserted within the limits of a globalized and financialized economy, which focuses its efforts on overcoming the serious accumulation crisis and ecological collapse, even if this entails an open war between capital and life.

This is the key to characterizing the current economic war. If we analyze the US agenda, the main trigger of the outbreak of the multilateralist consensus, we will see how the media does not correspond to the strategic. Thus, in the face of the supposed primacy of the tariff war with China and the EU, and in the face of the alleged protectionist commitment based on theAmerica First and the freezing of the TTIP, the US assumes the economic war in its entirety. But always within the three structural patterns indicated, thus offering a different look at the concept.

In this way, Wall Street is "the boss here", not the classic agro-export industry. Globalization continues to prevail, therefore, over the need for protection. Finance has managed to blow up all attempts at financial regulation, lower taxes, raise interest rates and maintain a strong dollar, generate offensives against weaker currencies and support the signing of trade agreements as a corporate shield tool (such as evidence of NAFTA update), although accepting the need to negotiate multilateral agreements such as TTIP in better conditions.

This is the basis of the real agenda, which is completed with the fierce competition with China for the control of data as raw material - Europe is quite absent in this sector - as well as the development of new digital services as a space for accumulation. This dispute, together with the verification of the enormous Chinese trade surplus and its control over the US public debt, make the Asian giant and its sovereignty the true objective of the intra-capitalist war, with Europe as a stone guest and a vulnerable scenario to influence. The picture of themainstream agenda It concludes with the support —also military, if necessary— of the extractive complex of energy and materials, in the face of global depletion.

From there, other measures of lesser rank are developed, which try to satisfy the rest of capitals: warmongering verbal escalations (Russia, Venezuela, atomic agreement, etc.) to favor the industrial-military complex and a limited increase in tariffs for industry domestic and agro-export, which at least compensates the strong dollar and sustains electoral support. But all this without the relevance that the media give it, given the global interdependence that prevents an open war.

In short, the United States as the champion of the economic war shows that it is being fought fundamentally in the financial, energy-material field and around the 4RI, issues that do not seem to be in the media focus. Finance is the axis on which the framework of the possible pivots, which is why the global commitment and in favor of the treaties remains, with nuances. Tariffs and state protectionism, on the other hand, have a limited scope and a strong rhetorical component; there are only real restrictions on the flow of people, from racist logic. Meanwhile, the economic war in a broad sense is silenced, being the greatest threat.

In this context, how to face the economic war? In the first place, assuming the broad meaning of confrontation with capital. The change in the economic matrix from ecological, feminist and class keys, the defense of the commons and the dispute around the 4RI - breaking the false story of the «collaborative economy» - appear as strategic priorities.

Second, not having to choose between one capitalism or another, a multilateralist or a more unilateralist one. Both lead us to the social abyss and ecological collapse. Of course, it is a question of unambiguously curbing social and political fascism, but the alternative will never have to pass through an abstract and commercialized universalism that also condemns us.

Breaking this dichotomy to which we are pushedmass media it is a third priority axis, creating an economic and commercial agenda completely alien to the exclusionary and reactionary stories and practices. Without thereby reviling the dispute over sovereignties, not only state but also local, regional and global. And energy, food, feminist and popular, redefining concepts and perspectives from a radical and inclusive perspective. Despite the media noise, the antagonist is clear; the challenge is how to derail it.

By Gonzalo Fernández Ortiz de Zárate
Author of the book “Market or democracy. Trade treaties in the capitalism of the XXI century ”(Icaria, 2018).

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