Dutch professor Kees van der Pijl. D. R.
How can we organise a global resistance to the criminal capitalist system and the devastating imperialism that has ravaged entire countries?
Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You wrote the book translated into French: « Pandémie de la peur: projet totalitaire ou révolution? » (Pandemic of fear: totalitarian project or revolution?). In your opinion, what are the real issues in the creation of this pandemic?
Professor Kees van der Pijl: Like all large-scale historical events, the state of emergency in the name of a pandemic resulted from as complex of forces, it was a ‘systems event’ which we cannot reduce to a single project, let alone a single actor. But among the many forces involved, the fact that the world’s population had become restive in many countries in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008-’10, stands out as the main challenge to the existing order. It was responded to, first of all, by a core class bloc comprising the national security state and intelligence agencies primarily of the United States, plus the IT sector equally centred in the US, and the (multi-) media giants. The ‘biopolitical complex’ composed of the health sector and the pharmaceutical industry attached itself to this core via the Gates Foundation and others to profit from the vaccination drive that was selected as the main response (amidst a series of repressive measures without precedent in peacetime). To discipline the populations, the ruling class (regrouping behind the triangular structure mentioned) did not want to wait for a new ‘concept of control’ to establish itself organically (as in previous stages of capitalist rule), but imposed it by psychological warfare, a shock applied to society. In 2001, ‘9/11’ had already been an example of such a shock, and with ‘Putin’, ‘climate change’ and other scares in reserve, ‘the virus’ was deemed a highly effective means of executing a politics of fear. This is the formula used by the capitalist order now that the economy no longer enables a meaningful, more or less equitable social contract.
Can we say that in the West, people live in democracy? Are they not rather subjected to the totalitarianism of the ruling classes?
Even in the golden decades of class compromise after World War II democracy was closely guarded by shadow structures such as the ‘Gladio’ underground army. In the 1970s this NATO structure resorted to terror acts to prevent the Left from effecting serious political economic change. The parliamentary system has now been further weakened by further scaling back the role of the media as a public watchdog, due to concentration of ownership in the hands of the oligarchy, with newspapers a plaything for billionaires, say, The Washington Post for Jeff Bezos, or Le Monde for Xavier Niel. The jailing of Julian Assange serves as a reminder to mainstream journalists that any revelations about the misdeeds of the Western war machine will be the end of your career and possibly even your life. The ruling class of billionaires’ rules with the help of an auxiliary middle-class cadre, jointly exploring the possibilities of the IT revolution to freeze the social order into perennial submission.
In your opinion, doesn’t the European Union need to get rid of the US hegemony?
The EU was an aspect of the restructuring of post-war Europe to complement the new mass production economy developed in the United States and consolidate the bourgeois regime to ward off Soviet-style communism in countries like France of Italy. With the Treaties of Maastricht and Lisbon at the turn of the millennium the EU has given up the degree of autonomy it enjoyed in the previous period. This means that it has effectively become an appendage of NATO and also adopted neoliberal, speculative capitalism. The intimate ties with the US on both dimensions prevent any emancipation from US tutelage. What is rather to be expected are national departures from the NATO-EU yoke. For instance, in Germany the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) is now the largest political force in the polls, and there might also be a breakaway new progressive party formed by dissident Left Party leader Sarah Wagenknecht. That might create a crisis at the heart of US empire in Europe.
What is your analysis of the conflict in Ukraine?
It is a conflict forced on Russia by NATO, which was never a defensive organisation but first a structure essentially aimed containing progressive developments, before in the 1970s it turned towards aggressive power politics which contributed to the collapse of the Soviet bloc. As the military arm of US imperialism in Europe, NATO then was used to accelerate the dissolution of Yugoslavia and one by one integrate the former Warsaw Pact countries and even former Soviet republics such as the Baltic states. With Georgia and Ukraine, this crossed Russian red lines and led to war. NATO’s mission was always (from the original British perspective of the first Secretary-General), ‘keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down’ and the bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines by the US is a reminder that this still holds. Moscow responded to NATO’s Ukraine operation initially clumsily but more and more methodically albeit much less powerfully than expected. Russia is handicapped by the post-1991 formation of an off-shore oligarchy skimming off the country’s riches and weakening its national economy and military might. The legacy of the present conflict now that Ukraine and NATO are losing nevertheless, may well be the creation of phantom terror networks migrating to new hotspots in the way al-Qaeda/ISIS did across the Middle East and Africa as imperialist proxies, this time composed of Ukro-fascists.
The European Parliament is shaken by a series of scandals such as Marocgate and Qatargate, with a vice-president and MEPs in detention under electronic bracelet after having been in prison. Can we say that the capitalist system only produces a degenerate and corrupt political class, such as the former French president Sarkozy who has just been sentenced to prison? How did we get here?
The capitalist social order has passed its sell-by date and all kinds of corruption, in the broadest sense of decay and rot, are in evidence. The shift from a productive economy to a speculative one has also changed the nature of the ruling class, replacing its long-term perspective by predatory behaviour. The BRICS can surpass the G7 West because although they too have adopted capitalist economies, their states still retain a measure of sovereignty and a capacity for direction. Far worse than the degeneration of the Western ruling class however is the social decay, in which society loses its ability to come up with well-thought-out alternatives and bring forth alternative elites in the sense of the rise of self-conscious labour and socialist elites that were on the ascendant around the turn of the twentieth century.
In your opinion, why has the press in the West abandoned its role of informing the people and just misinforms them, serving the interests of the 1% oligarchy that runs the world?
Because the oligarchy owns the media and journalists work for it, as noted already. There has emerged an alternative social media with a growing reach, but the EU for instance is preparing legislation to shut them down in case of dissident opinions being disseminated (separate countries around the world are doing the same). The censorship by the large IT companies is already a fact of life, but technical ways of getting round it will require renewed repression—just as people will have to realise that the keyboard cannot be the final battleground for defeating a corrupt order.
Every time voices in the West contest capitalism or imperialism and certain occult circles that run the world, they are called conspiracy theorists. Are we not living in a fascist era in the West at the moment?
I would rather see it as a phase of transition, possibly to a new fascism but possibly otherwise. Gramsci in Italy and Franz Neumann (German social democrat also witness to the rise of fascism) spoke of ‘corruption/fraud’ and ‘fascisation’, respectively. This is the phase where the ruling class does not yet dare attack the population head-on, but is exploring the possibilities for repression by picking out individuals like Assange and see how public opinion reacts. Of course, ‘Covid’ was a bolder stroke already, but it had to be called off because a large segment of society resisted, sometimes helped (as in the US) by the federal system and for instance, the fact that judges are elected. The conspiracy theory label was suggested by the CIA to US media after the Warren Report confirmed the untenable thesis that president Kennedy had been shot by a lone gunman. Henceforth the term was used far more often in the mainstream media and now has become the standard label for dissident opinion.
My country, Algeria, is the permanent target of neo-colonialist and imperialist circles. By what right, in your opinion, do neo-colonialist and imperialist foreign powers interfere unscrupulously in the internal affairs of my country?
Of course, Algeria’s raw material resources have all along attracted outside powers trying to get control over them, beginning with the original colonization by France. But the complex history of the country, its bitter fight for independence and splendid role as a beacon for Third World autonomy and economic sovereignty (the New International Economic Order movement, for all its shortcomings) also led to internal divisions that allowed renewed accommodation with the former colonial power. Algeria of course was also the victim of phantom terror networks in the past, in this case the GIA and its sponsors in the country itself and in France.
You have written another excellent book: « The Making of an Atlantic Ruling Class« . Isn’t this class with its tentacles and networks that you talk about in this book a danger to world peace?
That is true. That book also documents that in the original EU member states, the ‘Atlantic’ fraction in the ruling class was dependent on US direction to support a common Atlantic stance (mostly under Democratic presidents presiding over an economic upswing). When the US retreated, a more inward-looking, sometimes reactionary fraction in Europe returned to power, with the EU in its various formats among the results. However, after Reagan and the switch to financial and later, speculative capitalism, this specific constraint has dissolved and we now look at straightforward EU vassalage whilst the US is decaying into drugs use, mass poverty and social anomy (as is Europe with only a slight delay). There is no longer a ‘Europe’ that can break free from Atlantic tutelage, only separate countries can, with Germany and/or France the main candidates: the role of Meloni in Italy is best understood as an Atlanticist counterstroke against Macron’s timid departures in the direction of ‘strategic autonomy’.
Is it not time to dissolve the criminal NATO organisation?
NATO will probably dissolve along with the EU/Eurozone in the aftermath of the Ukraine adventure. But as the imperialist ideologue, the late Z. Brzezinski, predicted, the decline of American hegemony will not be followed by a Chinese hegemony but more likely by 1930s-style chaos.
How can we organise a global resistance to the criminal capitalist system and the devastating imperialism that has ravaged entire countries? Are you optimistic about the future?
In the last phase of the Soviet era Warsaw Pact war games in all cases ended in nuclear combat in Europe. If the fighting in Ukraine is not contained and a truce installed, I am very pessimistic because those in government in the West have reached a stage of mental incapacity that is frightening in light of the risks. Generally, in a crisis there is little reason for optimism. But as Gramsci wrote, against the pessimism of the intellect there must be mobilised the optimism of the will. As long as conscientious, humanistic and progressive people keep their spirits up, we are not lost. The new possibilities of the Internet and the alternative news channels that have sprung up, can be compared to the invention of book printing at the end of the Middle Ages and have great democratic potential. That potential for resistance will never be global, but always be composed of local developments linking up with others. In Europe for instance, all democratic movements have their focal point in France, which is the beating heart of European democracy.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Kees van der Pijl?
Professor van der Pijl is a Dutch political scientist specialising in international relations and political economy. He was Emeritus Professor at the University of Sussex until 2019, when he resigned because he refused to backtrack on his controversial statements about the September 11 attacks, according to which they had been made possible with the help of Zionists in the US government.
Kees Van der Pijl obtained his doctorate from the University of Amsterdam with a thesis entitled Imperialism and Class Formation in the North Atlantic Region. He was a lecturer in the Department of International Relations at the University of Amsterdam, and co-director of the Centre for Research on International Political Economy from 1992 to 1998, creating with his partners the Amsterdam School of Global Political Economy. In 2000, Professor Van der Pijl moved to the UK to take up the Chair of International Relations at the University of Sussex. He was appointed Director of the University’s Centre for Global Political Economy (CGPE) when it was launched in 2001 (until 2006), and was Head of the Department of Politics and International Relations from 2002 to 2004. He also taught as a visiting professor at the Université d’Auvergne in Clermont-Ferrand and at the Université L’Orientale in Naples. On his return to the Netherlands, he joined the Dutch Anti-Fascist Resistance (AFVN/BvA, which grew out of the wartime communist underground). He was its chairman from 2013 to October 2015 and helped launch a vigilance committee against resurgent fascism, of which he is the current chairman.
Professor van der Pijl has written several books, including Marxisme en internationale politiek (1982); The Making of an Atlantic Ruling Class (1984); Transnational Classes and International Relations (1998); Global Rivalries from the Cold War to Iraq (2006); Nomads, Empires, States, Modes of Foreign Relations and Political Economy I (2007); The Foreign Encounter in Myth and Religion, Modes of Foreign Relations and Political Economy II (2010); The Disciplines of Western Supremacy, Modes of Foreign Relations and Political Economy III (2014); Flight MH17, Ukraine and the New Cold War, Prism of Disaster (2018); and in French Pandémie de la peur, projet totalitaire ou révolution? (2021). His work was nominated for prizes in 2007 and 2008 and he received the Deutscher Memorial Prize in 2008 for Nomads, Empires, States.