Research and study of ideologies of social and national emancipation and their application to conditions within imperialist society

Speech on the occasion of the launch of the book Capitalism, Coronavirus and War: a geopolitical economy, by Professor Radhika Desai.

27 April 2023.


Thank you, Radhika, and comrades.

It’s a pleasure for me to say a few words on this occasion.

To my mind, Radhika Desai is one of the most important, profound, innovative, and principled Marxist scholars and theoreticians presently writing in the English language.

And integral to why I say this is that she is also someone who is never afraid to put herself on the frontline. Never afraid of engaging with the really difficult issues. Her two recent visits to Russia alone attest to this. In a word, she passes Marx’s “the point is to change it” test with flying colours.

Building on her groundbreaking 2013 work, ‘Geopolitical Economy: After US hegemony, globalization and empire’, this latest book continues and deepens her theoretical trajectory and explorations, building on her previous work, but in the context of a rapidly developing and unfolding situation.

As Xi Jinping always reminds us, the world is experiencing changes unseen in a century. We have:

  • A once in a century global pandemic, throwing into stark relief capitalist and socialist responses.
  • An ever-deepening economic crisis in the capitalist world.
  • Russia’s Special Military Operation in Ukraine and US-led NATO’s proxy war against Russia.

Above all, the tectonic plates of the global balance of forces are shifting in a way not seen since perhaps 1492. Most especially, of course, we see the rise, or more accurately in world historic terms, the return of China.

Dedollarization must be kept in perspective, but it is real and it is happening. Look out for the ‘snowball effect’. China’s creative diplomacy is redrawing the geopolitical and geoeconomic map of the Middle East.

This shift in the global alignment and balance of forces is generally referred to as multipolarity. But additionally, Radhika has promoted Hugo Chavez’s concept of pluripolarity. To take account of the proliferation of forms and systems.

These concepts are of course controversial. And the subject of sometimes heated debates among Marxists.

Some say they neglect class struggle. And in my view some who use these concepts do indeed err in that direction.

Others claim they are a rehash of Kautsky’s theory of ultra imperialism.

Radhika’s great strength is that she uses what I’d call the dialectical method. What she often terms combined and uneven development.

She indeed locates the early stirrings of pluripolarity in inter-imperialist rivalry – as well as that between modern imperialism and such more traditional societal formations as the Tsarist, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.

But she recognizes the qualitative and fundamental change represented by the emergence of actually existing socialism with the October Revolution in 1917.

“All changed, changed utterly”, in the words of the poet William Butler Yeats, writing about events in Ireland the previous year.

And, in the wake of the October Revolution, and the development of the USSR, came the anti-fascist victory of 1945, the formation of the United Nations, the emergence of the socialist camp, the disintegration of the colonial empires, the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement, and so on.

Above all, of course, the historic return of China and the rise of a new socialist China.

All this runs like a red thread through Radhika’s work, meaning that she situates pluripolarity not as an end in itself, but rather as the essential pathway to socialism.

One of her key points is her insistence that not only classes, but nations, too, are pivotal in the global struggle for, and transition to, socialism.

Again, some Marxists, particularly in the Global North, may find this heretical.

However, in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels said that the working class must first win the battle for democracy. Must constitute itself as the nation.

Radhika’s work proceeds from the premise that socialism did not perish with the events of 1989-91.

And those socialist countries that survived – China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba – are precisely those that proceeded to the building of socialism via the anti-imperialist struggle for national liberation. And who see socialism, of course, as the universal cause and aspiration of working and oppressed people everywhere, but equally as being actually synonymous with their very national identity and existence.

The same may also be said of those countries, like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, in particular, that presently seek to embark on a consciously socialist project.

Standing in, theorizing, and developing this understanding, without which, historical experience would tend to suggest, a viable and sustainable socialist project is not possible, is perhaps the greatest significance and contribution of Radhika’s work.

Writings of Keith Bennett