Challenging the Discourse of Multipolarity

Joey Ayoub, a podcaster from “The Fire These Times“, recently interviewed Kavita Krishnan, Promise Li, and Romeo Kokriatski on the topic of multipolarity and why the left should not abandon anti-authoritarianism and internationalism. Krishnan, a Marxist feminist activist from India, discussed her recent break with the Communist Party of India – Marxist Leninist, which was catalyzed by the situation in Ukraine. Li, originally from Hong Kong and now based in Los Angeles, is involved in various movements and engaged in international solidarity work. Kokriatski, a managing editor of a Ukrainian newspaper and a Marxist since the age of twelve, hosts a podcast called Ukraine Without Hype, where he discusses the biggest headlines of the week in Ukraine in English.

Podcast: Against Multipolar Imperialism: An Internationalist Response

Multipolarity is a concept that refers to a world in which there are multiple imperial cores instead of just one dominant power. The US lost its unipolar hegemonic status due to a combination of factors, including the war on terror, allowing other countries like China and Russia to gain prominence. However, it is important to note that these are still imperial cores exerting influence on their surroundings. The idea of multipolarity makes it more difficult to tackle imperialism as these different poles can co-opt resistance and promote imperialism of their own variety. This is often seen in left-wing defenses of multipolarity.

We’re still talking about countries that want to be empires, or that are empires currently, exerting influence on their neighbors, on their surroundings, and on the globe as a whole. When you break up that hegemonic control into several different parts it just makes it that much harder to organize around and tackle, because these different poles can co-opt resistance.

Romeo Kokriatski

One thing that’s important to note is that this faith in multipolarity rests on this understanding of how imperialism works globally. A lot of folks feel that imperialism is mainly vested in the US and the West as geopolitical actors that exert influence over other countries, completely ignoring the fact that global finance exists. International monetary, financial, and other economic organs exist, and we live in a world where more and more nation-states are being recruited as part of this deepening phase of neoliberalism in which more and more things are being privatized, neoliberalized.

Promise Li mentioning that the politics of guilt overshadow Americans’ international analysis, preventing them from making a clear assessment of political economy and how power works in the international arena. Leftists in the West tend to center the fact that people in the Global South can govern themselves, leading to an uncritical allegiance to these governments. Leftists also refuse to see and understand critical minorities, especially other leftists, who are actually doing the work to call out authoritarian regimes. The uneven rise of authoritarianism in different countries requires different tactics and analyses, and there is no one-size-fits-all model in terms of how to address these different authoritarian actors. The discourse of multipolarity prevents us from understanding and fighting back against capitalist authoritarian forces.

we can’t call states in the Global South authoritarian even when they are authoritarian, because that’s a racist code word. I think it’s an interesting phenomenon where leftists especially in the West refuse to see and understand critical minorities, especially other leftists—their counterparts in these regions—who are actually doing the work to call these regimes out and to label these regimes for what they are. They place what they see as racist, and what they see as an imposition from the West, over the voices of actual communists, Marxists, and other leftists on the ground.

Promise Li

Kavita Krishnan discusses the problem of the global left, highlighting a common faultline where the left often makes everything about the West and demonizes America. The problem is worse in the Global South, where the left has a larger audience and legitimizes oppressive regimes like Putin and Xi. The author argues that the left should support struggles against ruling classes and oppressors anywhere, without measuring out solidarity based on anti-US sentiment or investing in the survival of oppressive regimes. However, some on the left accuse critics of being CIA agents and believe that supporting liberal democracy makes one not socialist.

It’s almost like a George Bush style “with us or against us.” The bad faith actors on the left in India are openly saying “You’re a CIA agent” and so on. But if you subtract those, and you look at reasonably good faith people on the left, they also look sad and regretful, and if you are critical of the kind of authoritarianism that there is in China for example, where there isn’t room for struggle and for movements, what they think is that basically you are for liberal democracy, and if you are for liberal democracy then you can’t be on the left, you are not socialist.

Kavita Krishnan

Kavita Krishnan argues that many rights, especially civil liberties, have been won through struggle and not given by liberal regimes. The idea of socialist democracy is to build upon existing democratic achievements and make them better, rather than destroying them and starting anew. However, Marxist-Leninist ideology suggests that the old state must be destroyed and a new one built. This creates a problem in terms of preserving democratic rights and institutions. Additionally, the author notes that dismissing feminism as bourgeois is a flawed idea, as Marxist feminism is also a competing force.

Ask someone who is part of struggles in the Global South. I’ve been arguing for some time that it’s in fact racist to not take us seriously, those people in these countries who want democracy, who want rights, who are fighting against authoritarian tendencies. The left ends up looking at states rather than people. It’s almost saying that the state equals the people. It’s not making a distinction between a state and what its people are struggling for.

I see that example most clearly in Ukraine. On the left, if you speak about Ukraine they will say Zelenskyy is this-and-that, he is bringing neoliberal policies there and so on. He’s selling Ukraine on Wall Street and so on. I have two responses to that. The first is that of course Zelenskyy represents the government, an elected leader—and then there are people, who are not the same as a government. But second, and equally important I think, is that it’s up to the people of Ukraine to decide what struggles they are going to prioritize and when. What Zelenskyy is doing in the economy is nothing exceptional. It’s what the government of India is doing. It’s what governments all over the world are doing. There are critics of it in Ukraine. The workers of Ukraine may be up against draconian labor laws, or the withdrawal of labor protections. But they are the same workers fighting in the Ukrainian army against an invasion. If the country survives, of course there will be room for all these other struggles.

Kavita Krishnan

Romeo Kokriatski argues that it is racist to assume that all Ukrainians want the same thing and that Ukrainian leftists do not necessarily support the liberal-democratic, bourgeois EU-ification of their country. The reason there is not more pushback against President Zelenskyy’s economic policies is because Ukraine is currently at war with Russia, and the priority is to avoid being genocided. The author also critiques the shorthand substitution of a nation-state for the people who live in it and highlights the importance of non-state resistance in achieving progress for marginalized groups.

The left is presenting a false choice between multipolarity and unipolarity, and they should stand in solidarity with all victims of imperialism, including Ukraine. Meaningful solidarity involves actively campaigning against misinformation and propaganda, just as they do for Palestine. The left should also counter the idea of multipolarity, which fascists use to reject universal values such as equality.

In the Indian example, a leftist would never openly agree that castes are good. However, that is precisely what they are saying if they advocate for a multipolar world and support non-US hegemons or the Global South against the US. In effect, for India, they are saying: “I think caste is good, and we should have a caste-based society in India.” For Russia, they are saying: “I believe we should kill all LGBT people.” For China, they are saying: “I believe everyone should be Han, speak Mandarin, and there should be no dialects.”

This rhetoric of “now is not the time to critique” has historically made room for disaster among the left. This is a classic Stalinist tactic. “Oh, it’s Western capitalism, we can’t talk about our internal errors.” The logical conclusion of that is that anyone who raises these internal errors—if we don’t have a culture of helpfully talking through them—are going to be cast out as enemies and excluded, killed, and we’ll be repeating exactly the same mistakes that we’ve seen in the twentieth century. And why would we want to do that, as the left?

China is funding and enabling the Myanmar military. In India, Islamophobia is boiled up by the fact that you have it in Myanmar, you have it in China. Those who talk about geopolitics—how can you not look at this in terms of geopolitics? Is it a coincidence that so many regimes in this neighborhood are actively Islamophobic? Is there no connection between them? Can you find no way of thinking about this beyond your specific national case? These are the questions that we need to ask.

Kavita Krishnan

My journey in creating this space was deeply inspired by James Baldwin’s powerful work, “The Fire Next Time”. Like Baldwin, who eloquently addressed themes of identity, race, and the human condition, this blog aims to be a beacon for open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable discussions on similar issues.

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