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Regional wars can have major impact on world imperialist economy

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Ned K.

For several years in the 21st Century there have been regional wars in the oil producing Middle East. Imperialist powers compete for control of energy resources through military repression of people's uprisings and by interference in internal political affairs of most countries in the region.

At the same time, US imperialism intensifies its rivalry to the East with China, demanding that China 'control' North Korea. Both the USA and China need oil exported from the Middle East. Any disruption to supply would see quick action by both US imperialism and the Chinese bureaucrat capitalist controlling interests within the Chinese government. What form such action would take is unknown but if history is any judge, disruption of supply of oil would be the catalyst for major upheavals in the economies of many countries.

The history of British imperialism's response to the American Civil War in the early 1860s between the emerging industrial capitalist states of the North and the slave states of the South is a good example of the impact of the disruption of supply of a key commodity. In this case, it was disruption of the supply of cotton to the British textile manufacturing industry. By the time of the outbreak of the American Civil War, British imperialism had put most of eggs in one basket - cotton. Nearly a quarter of the British population was dependent on cotton factory production for their livelihood. One tenth of British capital was invested in cotton and just under 50% of British exports were cotton yarn and cloth. 

Cotton was known then as "white gold" and Britain imported 70% of its cotton to feed its factories from the slave states of the South of the USA. The American Civil War exposed this reliance on cheap slave labour for supply of cotton as Afro-Americans deserted the slave owners in support of the anti-slave trade northern states. For British imperialism, American slavery had begun to threaten the very prosperity (profits) it produced and with the supply of cotton drying up, the prospects facing British imperialism were idle textile factories and a sea of revolting unemployed industrial workers.

The situation for British imperialism became desperate when the southern slave states’ Confederate Government banned all cotton exports to Britain. Troops suppressed protesting unemployed workers in Britain, while the largest cotton trading port in Britain, Liverpool, threw its support behind the southern slave owners and their Confederate Government. 

British imperialism, though, had a way out, such was its dominance in the world at that time. Its way out was to impose large scale cotton production in India, its main colony in the East. The value of Indian cotton, mostly owned by British interests, more than quadrupled in the first two years of the American Civil War as cotton plantations emerged at a rapid rate on Indian land previously reserved for important food production for the local population. 

Whereas in 1860 India had only contributed 16% of Britain's supply of cotton, it contributed 75% in 1862 and about 70% of France’s supply. The effects of the Civil War on global capitalism also reached the Nile Delta and northeastern coastal area of Brazil where subsistence farmers abandoned their crops for the cash crop of cotton for export to Britain and other European countries. Even in Western Australia, cotton exports tripled by 1863 while Mexico, an emerging cotton producer, increased its exports by eight fold in a decade.

Politically, the British Government exerted as much pressure as it could to convince the northern anti-slavery states (the Union) in the USA , led by Lincoln, to abandon their policy of emancipation of slavery. For its part, the Union saw an opportunity to weaken the southern Confederate states’ near monopoly position in the international cotton trade market. 

By the time the American Civil War ended in in 1865 in a military sense, whole economies of many countries had been transformed to 

meet the needs of the dominant imperial power at the time, Britain. There were also positives for the workers of the world in that the slave economy was defeated in the USA southern states, and in other countries where cotton was produced in abundance, wage labour and an agricultural working class emerged rather than slavery. In addition, the American Civil War had unintentionally brought to the fore new global links, not just between capitalists, landowners and merchants, but also between the then developing international working class.   

The lessons from this short period of the history of capitalism are that the international conflict today between US imperialism and other rising powers including China is likely to set off unexpected changes in the economies of countries across the globe as each imperialist power attempts to impose its will on smaller powers. 

The imperialists will move quickly if their "black gold" (oil) supplies are cut off, just as British imperialism reacted quickly when its “white gold” supply dried up.

Such a crisis will be an opportunity for the international working class to build a stronger movement against imperialism and to empathise with Marx's belief that he was a "citizen of the world".


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