The G7 Summit reveals problems for the West

03 June 2023

By Dave Stockton

After Russia was expelled from the G8 in 2014, for occupying Crimea, G7 summits became rather dull, routine affairs. Indeed, in 2018, President Donald Trump openly questioned G7’s usefulness, just as he did NATO, the United Nations and the IMF, seeing them as obstacles to ‘putting America first’. Joe Biden, however, has tried once again to use these institutions to assert Washington’s leadership.

Russia’s assumption that it was entitled to dominance over the countries of the former Soviet Union proved incompatible with inclusion in the G8, which was essentially a club of imperialist powers that accepted US hegemony. The potential for nationalist or democratic upheavals in those states (Georgia, Chechnya, Ukraine) and also his own (2011-12 and 2018-20) convinced Putin that he could only make Russia stable internally by becoming visibly a ‘Great Power’, able to measure up to the West.

Thus Putin became the troublemaker of world politics, for example in the Middle East (Syria) and in Africa, through the officially deniable exploits of the Wagner Group. The trouble he causes for the United States and its allies, however, does not make him an anti-imperialist, or in any way preferable to his Western rivals, as some on the left fondly believe.

So the G7 remained a club of the US and its subordinate allies, Germany, France, Britain, Canada, Italy and Japan, each with its spheres of economic investment and semi-colonies. As China grew from a source of cheap goods into a dangerous rival and as Russia proved it could indeed make serious trouble for them all, the G7 suggested itself as a coordinating centre for all the ‘democracies’ of the West against the ‘authoritarian’ East.

The three-day gathering in Japan declared it was unified on the war in Ukraine and on combatting China’s growing economic and military assertiveness over Taiwan, the South China Sea, the Pacific islands, clashing with Australia.

The US and British governments have been the most unbridled in their anti-China rhetoric. But the influence of Germany, France, their Japanese hosts and some of their own corporations meant that the official summit communiqué was more restrained. It did not talk of ‘decoupling’ but rather of the more cautious ‘de-risking’ of trade and investment relations with China, a point stressed by the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen. 

The success of ‘de-risking’, rather than breaking the enormous trade and investment links with China, is likely to hit a rock as soon as it becomes clear that this is cover for measures to ‘protect’ a US monopoly of the latest high tech developments. This rivalry, like the arms race unleashed by the Ukraine war, will not be resolved peacefully but by extremely disruptive economic warfare.

The Ukraine War 

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, fresh from touring the imperialist world’s capitals and addressing the Arab League’s Summit in Jedda, put in a surprise appearance in Hiroshima.

Zelensky’s appearance in Hiroshima succeeded in getting the US to lift its restrictions on its allies supplying Ukraine with US F-16 fighter jets, as well as helping to train Ukrainian pilots to fly them, plus a new $375 million military aid package. 

But Zelensky was also critical of the increasing talk of peace negotiations or a ceasefire, something repeatedly hinted at by France and by congressional and military figures in Washington. He fears a deal that might leave the Russian dictator with a sizeable part of the spoils his invasion has netted so far.

Wooing the Global South

When Zelensky claimed that Ukraine had ‘united the world’ against Russia, he was wrong. A serious number, including heavyweights like India, South Africa and Brazil, have refused to back the US war and sanctions. The semi-colonies and regional powers of the ‘Global South’ are acting a bit like the non-aligned Movement in the original Cold War.

The assembled military dictators and royal despots in Jedda gave a nod in Putin’s direction with a warm welcome for Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian butcher hugged the murderous Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The message from this summit was measurably closer to Putin and Xi Jinping’s line, asserting that the Arab countries are better served by a ‘multi-polar world’, independent of the West, rather than being dragged into a ‘new cold war’ that might soon turn hot.

Three major leaders were invited to Hiroshima with a view to winning them over to the West’s positions on Ukraine and China’s economic and military ‘bullying’, but all three kept well clear of endorsing this line. Brazil’s Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, India’s Narendra Modi and Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, instead spoke of the need for peace. In a news conference, Lula went further and openly attacked Joe Biden, saying his anti-Russian rhetoric was no help to efforts to end the war. He avoided any face-to-face encounter with Zelensky.

That these leaders avoided attacks on China’s ‘economic bullying’ should come as no surprise, given the US history of sanctions and blockades against Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and North Korea. The Washington-based IMF’s austerity packages, slashing poor countries’ health and education services to pay off creditors in the Global North, is not forgotten, any more than former US Secretary of State General Colin Powell’s brag that the US must be ‘the bully on the block’.

Winning support from the majority of the countries of the ‘global south’ will also be difficult because of their growing economic ties with Russia and China. China has long been offering loans with less onerous conditions, if not lower interest rates, than the IMF. Now that there is more than one ‘bully on the block’, the weaker states can hope to play one off against the other.

The G7’s line will come under criticism at a series of summits over the summer. First, there is the Russian economic forum in St Petersburg in June, which will discuss an alternative to the dollar as a world trading currency. ‘De-dollarisation’, however, will not be easy, as past projects touted by China and Russia have shown. Then comes the BRICS summit in South Africa in August, where the host is the friendliest major leader to Russia. And finally there is the G20 summit in New Delhi in September, which Putin says he may attend, presenting the G7 leaders with an embarrassing meeting.

Before anti-imperialists start celebrating the G7’s discomfort, they need to recognise that any new conflict between the imperialist giants will also inflame civil wars like those already wracking Syria, Libya, Sudan and Yemen. Rather than getting dragged into the rivalries of ‘our own’ exploiters, in either the imperialist or semi-colonial countries, the working class and the oppressed need to unite across all borders to wage a common worldwide struggle against all forms of exploitation and oppression.

That struggle has to have organisational form if it is to have any effect. International gatherings of militants are necessary to debate strategy and resolve differences in order then to organise common actions of resistance. In short, it means taking concrete steps towards the building of a Fifth International, aiming to destroy capitalism and imperialism.

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