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Rise of the left a sign of ‘a new international consensus’

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Picture: REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov – Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses participants at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia on June 17, 2022.

By Dr André Thomashausen

Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine on February 24 has triggered unparalleled Western measures to block and exclude not only Russia, but anything Russian as well.

During his speech at the recent St Petersburg International Economic Forum, President Vladimir Putin declared that Russia was entering a new global order and nothing would be as it used to be in global politics.

The West is made up of the US and Nato, Canada, the EU, Australia and Japan. In a Marxist analysis, the 15% of the world’s population that make up the West are the wealthy that consume 60% of the world’s energy and generate about 55% of the world’s GDP, thereby carrying a 60% responsibility for global pollution and global warming.

The remaining 75% of the global population are the impoverished working class or unemployed. The average GDP per year and per person in India is a quarter of what it is in South Africa, namely $1 750 (about R29 000). A Norwegian, by contrast, enjoys an average GDP per year of $91 500. This means an Indian survives on an average $4.9 a day while a Norwegian can enjoy the comforts of $257 a day.

It was German Chancellor Willy Brandt who, in September 1973, in New York at the UN, alerted the world to the dangers of a North-South divide and famously declared: “Wherever hunger is prevalent, peace cannot endure for long.” Not long afterwards, Brandt established the North-South Commission and led the policy of détente in Europe, and, on June 12, 1992, the self-dissolution of the Soviet State and the inception of the new Russian Federation.

“Détente” and the demise of the Soviet bloc of countries ended the post World War II era known as the Cold War, characterised by a bipolar antagonism of two nuclear superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union.

The bipolar world order has since the 1990s morphed into a hegemonial or uni-polar system, dominated by rules and state practices shaped by the only remaining incontestable superpower after 1992, the USA. The new international law concepts of “humanitarian intervention” and “R2P – Right to Protect” eroded the formal and strict prohibition of the use of force and equal sovereignty of states of the UN Charter. They enabled the USA and Nato (operating as a rule under US command) to intervene where diplomacy and “soft power” failed to impose its values.

After 1992, the Russian Federation discarded its Soviet past and aligned with the Western hegemonial block. More than half of Russia’s external trade was focused on the EU, with Germany in the lead position. A massive 150 billion m3 tonnes of natural gas were supplied to Europe every year. Since the days of Peter the Great, Russia’s identity has in fact been shaped by Western concepts and values, including the originally German philosophy of Marx and Engels.

Will the post February 2022 severing of all relations and ties of Russia with the West result in a new World Order, as claimed by President Putin?

The Cold War was fought actually in factories, ports, schools, universities, the media and cultural organisations everywhere. In this global battlefield, covert forces of the West were sabotaging unions, organising right-wing coups and financing relentless anti-worker propaganda campaigns with the support of global and multinational companies. Their power was at some stage so vast that the UN considered to treat them as quasi-state actors and supported the designs of a “New International Economic Order”.

The financial and organisational weakness of political parties in Western societies nevertheless benefited the trade union movement. Political parties came to depend on unions for the mobilisation of voter support and the subsequent cohesion of their parliamentary work.

The gradual emancipation of civil society set off with the immense force of the student uprisings at the end of the 60s, especially in Paris. Political leadership everywhere had to adjust and embrace the yearning for peaceful coexistence and socially supportive policies in favour of the working class.

In 2000, the Cold War was almost forgotten and had given way to the globalisation of trade, the free flow of capital and the freedom of movement and services. In the decade of 2000, visa systems were relaxed to the level of mere formalities. The implied promise that multi-party democracy and market economies were the best foundations for food security, economic progress and individual well-being, won support in the entire continent of Africa and caused China to radically reform and liberalise its economy.

Not many of the hard-won global freedoms are left after two decades of the “War on Terror”, a relentless Nato expansion to the east, the splitting away of the Crimea from post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia’s February 2022 military intervention in the eastern parts of that country.

Recent months have seen major shifts to the political left in elections in many countries. Most recently, Gustavo Petro, a former anti-imperialist guerrilla leader, won the elections in Columbia.

Earlier In Peru, a Marxist school teacher, Pedro Castillo, won the majority of the votes. Before him, in Chile, 36-year-old former left-wing student activist Gabriel Boric won.

In Brazil, an important BRICS partner, a comeback and electoral victory of globally acclaimed reformist and supporter of an alternative global order, Inâcio Lula appears likely.

The new President of Mexico, Andrés Lopez, assured Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua of his support and promised to “tear down the Statue of Liberty in New York”, should the US insist on giving Julian Assange the “Gitmo” treatment.

Most importantly, China’s Foreign Ministry recently labelled Nato “an organisation engaged in creating conflicts and waging wars and killing innocent civilians”.

The political victories of the left in South America are mirrored in Europe in Portugal and Spain, Norway and Germany and now in the United Kingdom, with the resignation of Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson. They demonstrate a new emerging international consensus that is also expressed in the priority goals that were formulated at the 14th BRICS Summit on 24 June, 2022.

The most important goals are to secure peace on the basis of the original principles of the UN Charter, to give priority to climate change and sustainable development, to invest in infrastructure, educational, science and health development (including sustainable vaccine production in the Global South), improvement of industrial skills, of measures to prevent corruption and to invest in own international payment and finance systems and institutions. After the June 2022 BRICS summit, Argentina and Iran formally applied to join the emerging alliance of the developing or partially developed nations.

Co-operation and development solidarity without moralising interference could best summarise the new state practice within the BRICS. It is a growing counterweight to the values and mission-driven hegemony of the West which is becoming isolated.

Despite the emerging new consensus or the swing to the left in many countries as well as Russia’s rejection of the Western hegemony no fundamental reform of the United Nations system nor a revision of the UN Charter can be anticipated. The United Nations is still the only safe foundation of the modern international order and no country will withdraw its membership.

Thomashausen is a German Attorney and Professor Emeritus for International Law at Unisa.