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<nettime> Raw interview text - with Kees van der Pijl on the status of t
Ãrsan Åenalp on Thu, 6 Feb 2014 03:56:27 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Raw interview text - with Kees van der Pijl on the status of the

The below interview is conducted with Kees van der Pijl. The text,
especially the questions still needs a good edit. Since I think Kees'
answers are very worthy to share widely I am posting the text here
without waiting for the edit. Please do not put it on a blog or page
since it is not yet ready for publication. I would circulate the link,
when it is put online.

Global Rivalries Today - Interview with Kees van der Pijl

Intro: Since almost the beginning of the neoliberal offensive in 1970s
you have been leading an important research and theory work on the
Atlantic ruling class, international capitalist class formation,
transnational capitalist classes and global rivalries amongst
capitalist classes, which finally led the world into a massive
economic crisis in 2007. In the last decade you have been extremely
productive in terms of publishing on these topics. Besides many
articles, in 2006 Global Rivalries came out, in 2007 and 2010, Nomads,
States and Empires and Foreign Encounter in Myth and Religion, the
first and second volumes of the Modes of Foreign Relations and
Political Economy trilogy were published. The last volume The Discipline
of Western Supremacy is just came out. Besides this classical
work, which in our opinion can be compared to Polanyi's Great
Transformation, you have written and updated free online Handbook of
Global Political Economy and again last year the Making of the
Atlantic Ruling Class was republished. And currently are editing a
very timely and exciting volume with titled International Political
Economy of

Q1: Kees, after seven years how do you see the current status of
global rivalries among ruling classes; could you give us your account
especially in relation to the uprisings that have been happening in
different kinds of state-society complexes around the world in the
aftermath of 2008 financial crisis? Do you think these were the
uprisings anticipated in infamous Pentagon reports and National
Security Document which were released in the eve of 9/11? What do you
think that Atlantic ruling classes have done to prepare their response
to these early warnings?

A1: Historical events as such are never entirely anticipated and even
when planned, like, say, the invasion of Iraq, have consequences
nobody had foreseen. Of course once events unfold, intellectual
preparation will kick in, and then it depends on the quality of
theoretical insight and the accuracy of contingency planning and the
readiness of the apparatus to put it into practice, whether the
planners can gain control over the course of events again.

In the case of popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East,
there is no point looking for anyone 'behind them' other than those
leading the outburst of mass indignation over inequality and related
grievances. Thus in Tunisia, the typical pattern that would repeat
itself elsewhere was that the ruling clique crossed a line in pursuing
its strategy of neoliberal private enrichment whilst keeping the
repressive state apparatus in place for the less lucky. The
self-immolation of a graduate who had to make a living as a
street-vendor, in protest over bureaucratic obstruction preventing him
from even that, then sparked what obviously had been brewing for some

Only at that point can we assume that preparation and planning came to
play a role. As far as the Atlantic West is concerned, it had
fashioned a machinery for provocation and repression abroad in
1946/'47, organised in the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), a unit
for undercover operations and psychological warfare operating outside
the CIA. It was folded into the CIA in the 1950s but since that
coincided with Allen Dulles (one of the architects of OPC) becoming
CIA director, it meant that the CIA inherited the covert operations
portfolio. Knowledgeable observers like Peter Dale Scott claim that
OPC took over the CIA rather than vice versa.

Across NATO this covert structure fanned out into what later became
known as the Gladio cells, small nodes of committed Rightists with
access to hidden arms caches. They were conceived as stay-behind cells
around which in the case of a Soviet invasion, resistance was to be
organised. Of course there was no Soviet invasion either planned or
expected, and these networks in practice turned out to function as
relays of a NATO-coordinated strategy of tension. So whenever there
was a threat from the domestic Left, it was from these quarters,
working hand in glove with the intelligence services, that the
political process could be destabilised by violence, infiltration and
provocation. Italy and Turkey are examples of how the application of a
strategy of tension worked to block the way for the Left when it could
no longer be contained through the regular political process. From
these countries some of the most insightful analyses have emerged of
how the 'deep state' (a term coined in Turkey) actually operates. In
the 1980s, these networks partially metamorphosed into 'democracy
promotion' structures, drawing in private financiers like George Soros
and others, but essentially still covert operations.

France under De Gaulle was exceptional in that it suspended membership
of the military organisation of NATO in the mid 1960s, among other
things in protest over US covert action in French politics, including
the instrumentalisation by the West of neo-fascist elements emerging
from the struggle over decolonisation (in France, the OAS; remnants of
the Portuguese fascist secret police, PIDE, were likewise integrated
into the NATO panoply after the Carnation Revolution in 1974).

May 1968 in hindsight was an important turnabout also in the evolution
of the covert networks operating under NATO auspices. The student and
workers' revolt demonstrated the potential of mobilising the young in
the streets against an elected,  but from the Atlantic point of view,
undesirable government--De Gaulle resigned from the presidency within a
year. The attention of psychological warfare specialists in Britain
and the US at the time was drawn by the fact that not only did the
students and workers criticize capitalism, but they also were
profoundly critical of Soviet-style state socialism. In my Discipline
of Western Supremacy I give details how, when the Soviet bloc began to
crumble, analysts of the Vatican's and Reagan administration support
for the Polish workers' revolt urged a shift to democracy promotion.
Since then, youth movements have been mobilised to unseat undesired
leaders--from Milosevic in Serbia to currently, and so far
unsuccessfully, Yanukovich in Ukraine.

A movement to camp out in a central square and storm government
buildings is not something that one can organise from the outside. But
if there is protest, we can by now safely say that a well-trained
apparatus is ready to move in to provide money and organisational
skills for round-the-clock pop concerts, printing materials, visits by
Western politicians (in Kiev a US State Department official was filmed
handing out sandwiches etc.) and the like. That it did not work in
Kiev in my view has to do with the growing independence of the German
ruling bloc, which after having declined to follow the US and Britain
into Iraq, and likewise kept aloof from the Libya adventure that
toppled Khadafi, has also cultivated its own cronies in Ukraine,
partly at cross-purposes with the US.

Through the 1970s and 80s, the ideas about non-violent coups of
Harvard scholar-activist Gene Sharp have provided intellectual back-up
for the democracy promotion/youth revolt movements--in the Philippines,
in the former Soviet bloc and ex-USSR, and so on. Again I detail the
evolution of this line of thought and its adoption by veterans of the
US and NATO covert operations infrastructure in the aforementioned
book. The youth movement must of course be there; every student
generation is in principle inclined to seek and experience something
like May 1968, and in the changed circumstances this is being
instrumentalised. It has by now been theoretically reflected on to
such an extent, and there is such an apparatus in place to put ideas
into practise, that whenever there are stirrings with the potential of
a student movement, it can be jumped on. At Sussex I heard from
students how they travelled in countries like Albania and former
Yugoslavia as part of solidarity groups connecting the anti-government
youth movements in the different countries. One should not underrate
the spontaneous and authentic, albeit politically naïve and
geopolitically illiterate, nature of this sort of movement. And then,
should one speak up for a man like Yanukovich?

In Belarus the youth movement was also frustrated by an authoritarian
government aware of the forces they were up against. Putin organised
his own youth movement,  which can be mobilised should an unexpected
pop concert revolution set up camp in Red Square (not very likely).
Chávez in Venezuela was also on the hit-list, but then he had his own
mass base that protected him from a middle-class youth revolt. He was
also saved by the invasion of Iraq which distracted full US attention
from Latin America for a time.

To revert to your question, 9/11 marks a turning point also in this
respect. It has placed a premium on violence again. There is a sort of
reversal to overt warfare, infiltration and provocation--away from the
subtleties of trying to influence authentic mass movements. This
certainly has been borne out by events following the Arab Spring,
which after tortuous attempts to get a grip on the revolting masses,
including on the Muslim Brotherhood, has been short-circuited by
violence again--first in Libya, then in Syria, and then in the
generals' coup in Egypt which basically turns back the clock entirely,
with Sissi taking the place of Mubarak, and the $1.5 billion annual US
subsidy for the military, uninterrupted.

Q2: Turkey is located in the middle of imperial frontiers such as
Balkans, Caucasus, Middle East and North Africa. Therefore
transnational and systemic rivalries simultaneously penetrate and
intersect over the social space in which, with your term, Turkish
'secondary contender' state-society complex is embedded. Most notably
after recent crises between Erdogan's AKP and Gulen Movement -namely
over the head of national intelligence agency (MIT), the Gezi
Uprising, and recent corruption scandals came about after the covert
operations targeted the ministries and the prime minister himself- the
struggle between Erdogan and Gulen has become fierce. How do you make
of the rivalry between western-oriented and militarist old power
elite, Erdogan and Gulen networks in the wider regional and global
context of global rivalries?

A2: I would think that from an Atlantic-imperial point of view,
Erdogan may have passed his sell-by date. Initially he was seen as
embodying a compromise between neoliberalism and Islamism, something
which Erbakan, who adopted a more classical contender posture, had not
been ready for. However as Erdogan has moved closer to the Gulf Arab
states and to the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots and is
championing Islamicisation at home, he has provoked strong opposition
in Turkey and mistrust in the West. The heavy-handed response to the
Gezi Park movement has brought out the authoritarian undercurrent of
his highly personalised rule, which is not appreciated by the educated
urban element. Like Lukashenko of Belarus and Putin, whose positions
resemble his own in this respect, Erdogan compensates this by
cultivating a mass basis among the conservative landed population and
those recently urbanised from the land. However, his personal stature
has been damaged by corruption allegations against him and his
entourage. In that sense the Gezi movement was an echo of the popular
outrage at neoliberalism for the few, repression for the masses, that
brought down Ben Ali, Mubarak, and came close to ousting Assad as

Erdogan's support for militant Sunnism in Syria has stirred concern
among the secular current of opinion in Turkey, whilst the country's
Kurds and Alevis are likewise distrustful of support for jihadists in
the war raging across the border. But even within the AKP support for
an Islamist make-over of the Turkish state is limited (in a recent
poll only 12 percent of Turks were in favour of sharia law to be the
basis of the country's legal system, against three-quarter majorities
or more in the Middle East and Muslim Asia). To deal with the bubble
economy, the AKP government has resorted to austerity policies, with
the same result as in the rest of Europe: the economy becomes smaller,
the deficit relatively larger. This too undermines popular support. It
also makes the country more dependent on the Gulf Arab states which
have supplied most of the short-term finance to cover the deficit--in
turn aggravating the wariness in Turkey towards increasing
Islamicisation due to the conservative Gulf states' influence, a
dangerous spiral for sure.

Erdogan's attitude towards Israel, with which his Central Anatolian
business constituency does not have the links that the Istanbul-based
big business groups have had historically, only makes his support for
militant Sunnism at home and abroad across the border more of a
concern. His patronage of Hamas in Gaza has become dysfunctional now
that the Egyptian military are again closing the lifeline that allowed
the Palestinians to survive the Israeli stranglehold.

Clearly the idea, including my own at first, that AKP-style 'moderate
Islamism' would provide a model to consolidate the Arab Spring along
the lines of a neoliberal, pro-Western format, has been overtaken by
the return to violence as the predominant mode of exercising Western
influence. Whether the Gülen network from its US base serves as a
relay to help mobilise mass protests in Turkey, as Erdogan has
implied, I don't know; except that from what I have learned about the
Gezi park movement, it is not a politically naïve youth festival but a
politically articulate resistance in defence of the secular state and
with a strong academic component. I have received many messages sent
round from METU in Ankara about the plans to sacrifice part of its
beautiful campus to commercial interests too. As if the country's
academia is not one of the greatest assets for the future.

Q3: It seems like, as Turkey, almost in every country and region
inter-ruler rivalries are becoming more and more fierce. How do you
see the situation at the imperial frontiers especially North Africa,
Middle East, and the Asia Pasific region surrounding China? With
reference to the increasing capabilities that the developments in the
ICTs have brought about, how do you analyse the interest of the
rulers, or a segment of ruler class, in choosing soft-power versus
military offensive and occupations; thinking of network/cyber wars,
technical-tactical based civil uprisings as it happened in East
Europe, and if you compare those velvet revolutions to the recent

A3: Here I tend to start from my own, inevitably schematic
understanding of the global political economy, which is based on the
idea of a Lockean heartland around the white-majority English-speaking
West, from which capital expands and links up with nodes of capitalist
development elsewhere. Every epoch since the long  18th century, when
the French monarchy and then Napoleon resisted English-British
maritime and commercial supremacy, has seen a key state reproduce such
a contender posture. Today that role has been assigned to China.
India, Japan, even Vietnam, the Philippines, and others are being
mobilised by the West to gang up against China, just as China itself
was being encouraged in its anti-Soviet stance from the 1970s on.

Now whilst it can be helpful to begin thinking about historical
configurations of forces along these lines, the next step must always
consist of specifying the secular trends which make each
heartland/contender configuration different. The current one, in fact
the post-Soviet world constellation as a whole, in that light has as
its key characteristic that the national security state in the United
States and its NATO dependencies has run out of control, whilst the
capitalist economy everywhere crystallises into an oligarchical
structure with a clique of billionaires at the top and an
impoverishing population, including the middle classes which are
losing economic clout everywhere. Such a frozen constellation, in
which the oligarchies collude with the national security apparatus,
keeping each other in power, is unable to deal with popular demands
and with objective, life-threatening crises that result from the
destruction of the Earth's biosphere.

This is another angle from which to understand the growing dependence
on violence on the part of those countries like the United States, and
in the EU, Britain and France. By demonstrating their readiness to use
force in crisis situations, they seek to compensate their loss of
economic weight in the world. Germany on the other hand, although also
weakening due to the crisis of capitalism (albeit with a delay due to
its repression of rentier incomes during the reunification phase with
the East), is more and more pursuing its own interests. In countries
like my own this reactivates old tensions between our historical
liberal line, which goes back to the days of Dutch maritime primacy
which oriented it to the English-speaking world, and late
industrialisation after 1870 which pushed it towards Germany as a
supplier of semi-finished goods.

The militarists in the US have made it clear on several occasions that
they will never again tolerate a balance of terror as they 'granted'
to the Soviet Union in the 1970s, and in defence publications you can
read about US war planning aimed at knocking out the underground
network on which the Chinese nuclear forces rely. At the same time the
fiction of al Qaeda, of which the estimates are that it consisted at
most of some 200 activists at the time of the 9/11 attacks (hence also
why it is so improbable they pulled off such a massive operation), has
become the common denominator of all jihadist unrest in North Africa,
the Middle East, and from the Caucusus on across all of Muslim Asia.
What UK foreign secretary Robin Cook once dismissed as a US national
security database at best, has been amplified all out of proportion to
serve as the rationale for keeping a massive defence apparatus in
place. As the books by Jeremy Scahill document, US covert operations
across the globe only further inflate this once negligible threat.

So in reply to your question about soft power, even the area where it
seemed for a time that Western strategy relied on it to roll back
Chinese influence (Africa), this is now being sidelined by increasing
military involvement led by France, but with the US Africom military
command in the background. Whilst the soft power option, which hinges
on the spread of mobile phone technology and in which the (Bill) Gates
Foundation is an important relay, continues to be played as well, it
is clear that more and more the West chooses the military option.

Q4 - How do you see the level of politicisation of cyberspace, since
it has become increasingly central to the global rivalries, at least
publicly: from WikiLeaks, to hackers' involvement in
political activism, groups like Anonymous or LulzSec, and whistle
blowers like Snowden revelations regarding NSA-PRISM-GCHQ surveillance
scandals. Could you share with us your account on some confusing
relationships between Soros, Google, Facebook, Stratfor, ans well as
other actors, from a transnational class-analytical perspective -even
though it may be at an informed-speculative level.

A4 - The Snowden revelations and Wikileaks have exposed a huge system
of surveillance that the 'allied' governments are claiming to be
surprised by but which in fact they signed up to long ago. After the
collapse of the Soviet bloc, the NSA and other US intelligence
agencies switched from monitoring communist countries to all
countries, both in Europe and in Asia. In the course of the 1990s this
led to concern in the EU. In 1998 there was a dossier put together by
a British research bureau for the European Parliament that spelled out
in detail NSA eavesdropping practises and called on the governments of
the EU to resist them. So the 'surprise' of Merkel and others is
totally disingenuous; not only the UK but also the German and other
national European intelligence agencies have collaborated with the NSA
since very long because the deep state is a transnational structure on
which ruling class power relies, and increasingly so.

Meanwhile big capitalist firms are struggling to regain control over
the Internet which is a major, potentially liberating space as has
never existed before. It has abolished in principle the power of those
governing our lives to decide what we read and see and know; through
the Internet, the editorial function has in fact been returned to
informed citizens. Also thanks to Snowden, Assange, and all other
whistle blowers, the extent to which we were kept un-informed, has been
made public.

The attack by capital on Internet freedom is built around private
property rights. This produces the absurd penalties for those who
challenge the privatisation of scientific and scholarly knowledge,
barring people from freely accessing relevant information purely on
grounds of copyrights. Public universities pay their staff out of the
general budget, the staff publishes research in journals but these are
owned by private corporations and so the product of their intellectual
labour is put behind bars. Even the academic institutions that produce
the research must pay to look at it again.

People challenging this have run into serious trouble. Aaron Swartz,
who hacked into the JSTOR library of scholarly journal articles and
made it public, faced such exorbitant persecution that he chose to end
his life. A Swedish hacker was locked up in complete solitary
confinement without the right to read books, a right never denied even
to the neofascist mass of murderer, Anders Breivik. That is one line
of attack (I need not recount the fates of Manning, Assange, Snowden
and many lesser known whistle blowers).

The other step is to seek to privatise the Internet as such and
restore the editorial role. This has been compared to an attempt to
make the Internet an extension of cable TV  in which companies decide
what can be accessed. This is currently being brought to US courts for
jurisdiction, but if Monsanto is any guide in what to expect, we must
fear that Verizon and other big communication giants are going to get
their way.

The picture of the world today is one of entrenched oligarchies
competing with each other economically and by deploying the means of
repression and violence at their disposal. At the opposite end, the
disempowered masses facing the consequences of an economic system that
no longer works, ecological destruction and generally, exhaustion of
the social and natural bases on which organised social life rests. The
only thing that still gives cause for optimism is the ability of the
masses of the population on all continents, to remind the rulers that
their will to resist has not been extinguished.

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