The 21st Century Begins

A century is not always the same astronomically and historically.

Judging by the title, many may think that this is a mistake as the 21st century began 24 years ago. However, let’s look at it from a philosophical point of view.

In a lecture Un camino de medio siglo (A Road of Half a Century) given at the Central University of Venezuela on May 20, 1975, the great Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier noted that astronomically and historically centuries were different. For example, the 15th century lasted only 50 years, he argued, since in his opinion this period of time held all the most important events that took place in that century, from the capture of Constantinople to the discovery of America. The 19th century lasted 130 years as it began with the storming of the Bastille in France and ended with the Revolution of 1917 in Russia. And it is the volleys of the cruiser Aurora that gave start to the 20th century; Alejo Carpentier said it would last more than astronomical hundred years.

Something similar was suggested by Giovanni Arrighi in his The Long Twentieth Century, offering an analysis of international political processes from an economic perspective. He is inspired by earlier authors, such as Immanuel Wallerstein (World Systems Theory) and apparently by ideas of Fernand Braudel (the second generation of the French Annales).

Meanwhile, from the point of view of the global economy, it is impossible not to mention the earlier theory of business cycles, which was suggested by Nikolai Kondratiev and largely promoted by Joseph Schumpeter, although the duration of Kondratiev’s cycles, or waves, varies from 40 to 50 years.

Carpentier looked more broadly than the economists and spoke about the current century as of an era of struggle, changes, shocks and revolutions.

George Modelski who proposed the theory of war and hegemony cycles, is closest to him in this respect. In fact, Modelski anticipated a new world war to break out in 2030 and end after 20 years with a new stage in the U.S. global rule. However, he judged the process lopsidedly from the perspective of Washington’s hegemony, while the global power of the latter is rapidly winding down.

And I would rather agree with Carpentier who spoke about a wide anti-bourgeois uprising in different corners of the world, albeit without reliance on statistical data and economic figures. By the way, such an uprising began in Mexico earlier than in Russia, but grew into a bloody civil war and faded at that time, although this was a signal for other revolutionary movements in Latin America, especially those that were exhausted under the direct or indirect occupation of the United States.

Carpentier argues that the Russian revolution, which eventually created the Soviet Union, is a key point of reference not only because the country occupied one fifth of the planet’s landmass, but also because it inspired emulation and fellow feelings around the globe. Muhammad Iqbal, the spiritual father of present-day Pakistan, a poet and philosopher, enthusiastically spoke of it in British India. In Latin America, the successes of the October Revolution inspired the labor movement. In Asia people followed what was happening, although they did not have full knowledge. Meanwhile, the United States observed the processes in Soviet Russia with jealousy and envy.

Well, the anti-colonial struggle that engulfed three continents after World War II fits what Carpentier described as an era of struggle. Importantly, these were not conflicts of empires or nation states; it was the process of liberation from bourgeois hegemony, which took on a global character and did an impression of “industrialized countries”.

Of course, the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959 was a great contribution to this series of geopolitical changes. Since Yankee imperialism could not stifle the will to full sovereignty of the Cuban people, the phenomenon itself gave rise to two impulses, one continuing the line of liberation movements, and the other representing the reaction of the Western world, which consisted in that complex feeling that the German philosopher Max Scheler called ressentiment. That is, delayed retaliation based on jealousy.

The subsequent U.S. policy towards Cuba was built on ressentiment, indeed. As a result, there were sanctions, an economic blockade and the totally unjustified inclusion of Cuba in the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In fact, the West is now pursuing the same policy of ressentiment in relation to Russia. Since it was not possible to outbid and deceive the Russian elite (as, unfortunately, was the case in the 1990s), since it was not possible to weaken it by attempts at color revolutions and destabilization around Russia’s borders in the 2000s, they exasperated a conflict in the neighboring country situated on historical Russian lands, as a last resort.

It is difficult to say what the people who made the decision to stage a coup d’état in Ukraine ten years ago were counting on. Maybe they had problems with education, and they did not have objective knowledge, so they could not foresee the consequences. Or may be it was an idée fixe, like the one mentioned by Zbigniew Brzezinski in his The Grand Chessboard. Most likely, both. And now the collective West is trying to take revenge, using all possible means from appropriating Russia’s sovereign assets to supporting terrorism.

But let’s not forget about the first impulse – the refusal of many countries to worship the West, the emergence of sovereign political will in many corners of the world, which the West dismissively thought to be backward or barbarous, and criticism of the U.S. neoliberal hegemony from big geopolitical actors gave rise to the effect of multipolarity. Although the United States still has the world’s largest army and uses the dollar to maintain economic dominance, it has already lost all other advantages. The world no longer orientates to the West neither in politics, nor in science, nor in technology. Moreover, many Western imperatives, such as cancel culture, are simply unacceptable and are regarded as self-destructive trends.

Can we say that it is now that the 21st century comes when the world’s policeman has lost both legality and legitimacy? Apparently, the answer will be ‘yes’. Although those who advocate unipolarity will still try to somehow justify the retained dominance of the West with the “rules-based order”, brazenly trying to give those rules out for international law.

The 21st Century Begins

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