Trade Is War

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Trade Is War

Yash Tandon


Appearances notwithstanding, the strong and powerful do not have it all their way. There is active resistance from below.  People everywhere are innovating new ways of fighting aggression, injustice and inequality and alternative ways of organising production and exchange. A new world is taking shape, painfully but hopefully also peacefully.

The chapter divides into three parts.  The first part is descriptive: here I summarise the evidence of the preceding chapters to support my thesis that ‘trade is war’. The second part is analytical: here I offer a diagnostic perspective on the historical and structural reasons behind trade war. The third is prescriptive: here I make some general proposals on how to face the reality of trade war, and address concrete strategic and tactical issues of how to move from here to there - the journey from war to peace.



‘Si vis pacem, para bellum’ is a Latin axiom translated as ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’. In realpolitik mainstream literature on international relations, mostly Anglo-Saxon, this is interpreted as meaning peace through overpowering military strength.[i] In the long run, this is a self-defeating adage. Whether the US has achieved peace in Iraq or Afghanistan or Iran through its overwhelming military power is an open question, but most people would say that it has not. Israel is a powerful state, but only in the military sense.  

Summarising the evidence of ‘Trade is War’

The World Trade Organisation

Asymmetrical power relations are part of the dynamics of global negotiations and outcomes.  Having participated, directly or indirectly, in the negotiations process from the very first Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1997 to the Bali Meeting in 2013, I can say that the WTO is, without question, an extended arm of the US and the EU trade and foreign policy.  Japan used to be in this league, but has become a second rate power. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) are significant players as newly industrialising countries, but they still have a limited clout in the WTO for various reasons. The WTO, like all multilateral agencies, is driven by certain balance of economic, Ideological and political forces in the global domain. The South suffered a significant loss as a result of the weakening of the UNCTAD, the emergence of neoliberal globalisation, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The WTO is not a development agency; neither does it claim to be. It is a trade negotiating forum. Of course there is an underlying assumption that development is a byproduct of free trade. But this is based on an untenable neoliberal ideology. There is no empirical evidence to support this assumption. In fact, unfettered trade polarizes nations between the rich and the poor. Ironically, while the rich advocate free market for the poor countries, they practice protection. There is a discourse about ‘fair trade’, especially among NGOs, but within the WTO context, it is a red herring. Fairness is in the eyes of beholder.  For example, the US uses concepts of ‘offensive and defensive unfairness’: cases of ‘defensive unfairness’ arise when foreigners have unfair trade barriers against US exports; and ‘offensive unfairness’ when foreigners dump products into the US market.

The WTO is not such a benign or neutral body as is often made out. Its rules are subject to change at the behest of the powerful. For example, at the Uruguay Round, the US and the EU agreed to bring agriculture as part of the GATT, having provided each other certain leeway to impose trade-distorting subsidies. But now, the US and EU Agricultural subsidies are a major factor in increasing hunger in the Global South. Above all, they are able to manipulate trade rules and ‘shift’ between amber, blue, green boxes and de minimis to increase, not decrease, their subsidies. The US refuses to remove trade distorting subsidy to its cotton producers, irrespective of its threat to the lives of millions in Africa. In this light its African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) is insincere and hypocritical.

The WTO is a veritable battleground where the warring parties fight real issues – as lethal in their impact on the lives of millions in the South as ‘real wars’. Trade kills. The big and powerful employ sophisticated weapons - technical arguments, legalism, and ideological and political weapons with deftness and chicanery – as lethal as drone attacks. The US and EU change the rules of the WTO as they go along. For example, the principle of ‘single undertaking’ is a means to ensure that there is a ‘balanced outcome’ at the end of the negotiations. But increasingly the US and EU have attempted to change the architecture of the Doha Round's single undertaking in order to ‘early harvest’ some issues to their advantage. And when the multilateral trading system (MTS) does not suit their interests they turn to ‘Plurilaterals’ in the WTO and to bilateral or regional Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) outside the WTO. This is what Europe and the United States are doing outside of the multilateral trading framework with the result, paradoxically, of weakening the WTO in the process.

The Economic Partnership Agreements

Europe is arguably the most aggressive player in the WTO. It has a vigorous and aggressive secretariat in Brussels, driven by the Global Europe strategy, which is closely monitored and directed by BusinessEurope.[ii] Despite outward opulence, Europe is in serious economic and financial crisis, and is more vulnerable than the US to the risk of loss of markets and access to oil and raw materials. Europe must secure access to these, not only in the old empire but also in the growing economies of Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa.

As stated in chapter three, to understand Africa it is necessary to understand Europe, just like to understand the poor, it is necessary to understand how the rich became rich.[iii] The Euro-African relationship has three basic structural features. It is a relationship based on power asymmetry; it is a relationship built over a century which put in place deeply embedded in the institutions, culture and behaviour of both sides of the divide; and the colonially constructed language of discourse and terms of negotiations persist to this day.

In chapter three, I traced the concepts of ‘preferential tariffs’ 'reciprocity' and 'non-reciprocity' to the `imperial preferences` of the colonial era. What in reality was a `preference` in favour of the Empire was presented as if it were `preference` in favour of the colonies. Uganda, for example, could have sold its cotton to Japan in the 1950’s at a higher price, but the ‘imperial preference’ would not allow it. Indeed, Uganda was not allowed to use its own cotton to develop a textile industry.

Now, in the context of the WTO negotiations, ‘preferences’ are not allowed. ‘Non-reciprocal’ trade relations have to be converted to ‘reciprocal’ – equal for equal; I give you market access, and you do the same in equal measure.  There are exceptions made for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).  They are given non-reciprocal market access to Europe on a tariff free and quota free (TFQF) basis. But that is only on paper. Very few LDCs are able to take advantage of this because of the so-called ‘supply constraints’. In fact, they are hostage to food and agricultural imports (including dumping) from the European and other countries, which has destroyed Africa’s prospects for industrialization.  Fifty years down the road since independence, Africa is still, largely, an exporter of unprocessed raw materials to Europe and the rest of the world.


The ongoing EPA negotiations between Europe and Africa are not about Africa’s development, but about trying to maintain Europe’s competitiveness in the world market against competition from US corporate sector, and now increasingly from China and other newly industrialised countries.


For Africa, on the other hand, although market access to Europe is important, its main preoccupation is more or less in the following order:

·         Food sovereignty based on domestic production;

·         Control over the basic means of production such as land, water, seeds and technology;

·         Protection of farmers’ rights, especially small scale farmers;

·         Removal of imbalances and asymmetries in the WTO in relation to agriculture;

·         Sovereignty in making intellectual property (IP) regulations affecting food security and health;

·         Protection of biodiversity enshrined in the Convention on Bio-Diversity (CBD);

·         Protection from agriculture dumping by Europe, and reduction of subsidy to European farmers;

·         Use of local resources for local and regional value-added industrialization; and finally,

·         Market access for agro-processed industrial products.


In the EPA negotiations, the last (market access) is put first and the first (food sovereignty) is put last. Agriculture is first and foremost a livelihood issue. 70% to 75% of Africa's population depends on it. A foolish and hasty step towards trade liberalisation can put to risk the livelihood of these people, most of them very poor. Agriculture is treated as simply a tradable commodity. It should not be; it is livelihood issue. And so, ‘market access’ becomes the core of all trade negotiations. From a ‘development’ perspective this is absurd. But in this topsy-turvy world globalisation thrives on such absurdities.


The EC has often talks about decreasing subsidy to agriculture; actually it has increased from Euro 39.5 billion in 1999 to Euro 46.2 billion in 2002, and still rising. Furthermore, the CAP reform, such as it is, makes EU products price competitive because of replacing export subsidies with direct aid to the farmers. African countries are not able to provide domestic support to their agriculture not only because of budgetary constraints but also, for many of them because of IMF and donor conditionalities. Also Africa has no access to the so-called ‘green’ or ‘blue’ boxes that are available to the EU, which allows Europe effective protection against imports from outside, even as the EC, hypocritically, talks about ‘free trade’.  Trade is war, not ‘free’ by any meaning of the term.


WIPO and Intellectual Property

As state above, Africa needs control over the basic means of production such as land, water, seeds and technology.  And yet, while land and water are ‘tradable’ in the global market;[iv] seeds and technology over which the developed countries have monopoly are protected under IP rights. On the other hand, there is massive appropriation of indigenous knowledge (including indigenous seeds) by western corporations, mostly without any form of compensation. This knowledge and seeds are then used to produce ‘patented’ products. These are not freely tradable in the market. The developed countries protect these ‘properties’ like a hawk. The threat of GMOs to local seed varieties is a matter of great concern to Africa.  Africa also has other concerns such as: opposition to the patenting of life forms; sovereignty in making regulations affecting food security and health; lack of coherence between the WTO TRIPs; and so on.

The IP system is a relatively new development even within the evolution of capitalism; it violates all principles of natural justice; it is dangerous for millions of the poor; and it must be phased out.  The notion that without IP protection, innovation would be stifled is an ideological position created and propagated by those that benefit from the privatization of knowledge. I came to a diametrically opposite conclusion over two decades of work with the farming communities in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana and much of eastern and southern Africa. Ordinary peasants and workers are amazingly innovative and productive until their resources and knowledge are appropriated, privatized and corporatized. (see chapter 4)

The institutions of global governance including the WTO and the WIPO are creations of an asymmetrical world dominated by the early industrializers of the imperial North. They use the existing legal order that they created to criminalize those that fight against the unjust system. In chapter four I gave examples from the seed and pharmaceutical industries as evidence of this.  The North tries to divide and rule the South. When the South, against all odds, manage to unite and fight back (as in the WTO and the WIPO), the West counter-attacks using their money and market power, directly or through institutions such as the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the Global Congress on Counterfeiting and Piracy (GCCP), Northern Corporate Rightholders (NCRs), Standards Employed by Customs for Uniform Rights Enforcement (SECURE), and several such networks of Western dominated organisations.

The west has no interest in helping the South to industrialize and compete against them in the exploitation of the world’s diminishing natural resources. Attempts by the countries of the South to challenge this system have provoked aggressive action by the industrialised West in ways that can only be described as acts of war.

Root causes of Trade War

A linguistic-methodological Note

When looking for ‘causes’ of something disagreeable or unpleasant, there is a natural human temptation to blame somebody for it. I do that all the time in my domestic life. However, it is important to clarify that when I analyse the WTO or the WIPO or EPAs I am not indulging in the ‘blame game’. When it comes to international relations, it is important to understand the difference between the popular or media tendency to blame someone … and trying to understand why individuals or nations or institutions do what they do. Understanding is not the same as blaming.  












Also blame is not the same as ‘responsible’, although the two are often confused in casual talk. In looking for causal connections, one might use the word ‘responsible’ but it does not mean finger pointing in an accusative manner.

There is yet another semantic confusion that I need to clarify to avoid possible misunderstanding. I have used terms such as ‘double standards’ or ‘hypocrisy’ in describing the inconsistency between what the western countries claim (free trade, for example) and what they do in practice (protection).  Again, these are not accusative terms. There is an ontological, verifiable, reality behind such discrepancies between principles and actions. The west may claim (probably sincerely) that they are helping to ‘develop’ the south, while in reality impoverishing it. There is a whole school of political-economy which argues that while the west claims to ‘develop’ the South, what they actually do is to ‘underdevelop’ it. [v]

Facing the hard realities of Trade War

In trying to understand the reality of trade war, I use three analytical concepts:

1.       The concept and reality of imperialism;

2.       Resource wars as a major aspect of present day reality; and

3.       Global Anarchy – the absence of a proper global governance structure.

Imperialism and the question of BRICS

I have already discussed this in chapter five. I summarise the main points here in order to tie the concept to other aspects to the discussion over war and peace, and how to move from one to the other.

 To recapitulate, then, Imperialism, simply put, is domination at the international level by some countries over others. When men dominate women at the domestic level, we do not call it imperialism; we call it oppression.  Imperialism is a particular kind of relationship that came in the wake of slave trade, capitalism and colonialism. It may not be reduced to any kind of asymmetrical power relationship. The USA and the Europe Union are unequal powers, but neither is dominating the other in the sense of imperialism. In fact, they are both imperialist powers - partners and competitors at the same time. Paradoxically, people in the West, including well-meaning NGOs and people otherwise sympathetic to the South, have difficulty recognising the reality of imperialism. There is very little we can do to shake them off their denial of a reality of which they have no direct existential knowledge.

I also addressed the question of BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Are they not exploiting the cheap labour and resources of Africa? Are they not imperialist, or at least ‘sub-imperialist’ nations?  My answer to this is related to my above description of imperialism as a historically produced phenomenon. China and India traded with Africa for a thousand years but never colonised Africa. What might happen in the future I do not know.  Why is the issue of BRICS such an important issue? Because it is related to the question of building alliances and solidarities that I address further down this chapter.

Resource wars 1980


In Nigeria, the smuggling of refined oil products across porous West African borders has been going for decades.[vi]  This parallel flow enables communities dependent on it to organise their perilous lives and livelihoods outside of the formal sector. At the same time, oil multinational corporations (with Shell in the lead) have been selling under-invoiced oil in the global market for decades. They carry the Nigerian state in tow, with the ruling elite sharing the profits of this officially-sanctioned underpriced oil.[vii] In 1995 Ken Saro-Wiwa - writer, television producer, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award - president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), was hanged by the military regime. His crime was to wage a non-violent struggle against environmental degradation of the land and waters of Ogoniland by oil industry that benefits the global corporations plus a couple of thousand Nigerian elite at the cost of millions. 

This brief account encapsulates the complex saga of the ‘oil war’ in Africa. In 2013 al Jazeera released a four-part documentary series – ‘The Secret of Seven Sisters’ - that showed how the western corporation dominated oil cartel made secret pact to control the world’s oil.[viii]


Somalia is an even more complex than Nigeria. The dominant narrative vilifying Somalia as a ‘failed state’ is not persuasive; it leaves room for asking some legitimate questions not answered in this narrative. Somalia is vilified the world over for hosting the Al Shabaab and the pirates who have terrorised maritime fishing for several years. A significant and legitimate question to ask: Has Somali piracy anything to do with the illegal fishing by European-American-Japanese fleets and the illegal dumping of toxic (including nuclear) waste, devastating Somali coastal resources and people's livelihoods? If so, are not the 'fish pirates' as culpable as the 'ship pirates' (you loot our fish, and we loot your ships)?

Following a proper understanding of this, there are more questions to follow. Does this looting by ‘the fish pirates’ and the deprivation of people’s livelihoods have anything to do with the emergence of the Al Shabaab? And then there are some questions on regional war and peace. Has the imposition of an order from outside Somalia in the form of Ethiopian-Kenyan-Ugandan troops and the forcible removal of the Union of Islamic Courts that for a period brought some peace to Somalia in 2011-12 anything to do with the continuing strife in the whole region? If so, are not the neighbouring countries of Somalia as culpable as the feuding warlords of Somalia? Are the neighbouring countries fighting proxy wars on behalf, for example, of the United States in the latter's relentless 'war on terror'? If so, are not the East African governments culpable for putting their innocent civilian populations to the risk of violence?

You may ask: but what has this to do with my thesis on ‘trade is war’?  So let me elaborate.

In late 2012, a former academic, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud became president of Somalia. His election was hailed by the west: the US restored diplomatic ties after an absence of 20 years. The UN lifted the arms embargo under which the western countries eased arms delivery to Somalia. In June 2013 Somalia joined the Cotonou Agreement (until then, it was not a member of the ACP group).[ix] President Mohamud at the time said that this would facilitate the national reconstruction process, as Somalia would be eligible to receive EU development aid.[x]

Fish is not the only resource coveted by global corporations. Somalia also has oil. Clearly, President Mohamud was using oil as a bait to attract foreign investments for fisheries and oil. In April 2014, Somalia signed a fisheries partnership agreement with the EU. Oil was a coveted resource by several competitors, among them the UK, France, Norway, Qatar and Turkey. Soon after Mohamud’s election as President, British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted a conference on Somalia. Cameron said: ‘We're helping to improve transparency and accountability by establishing a joint Financial Management Board, through which donors will work with the Somali government to make sure that revenue from key assets and international aid is used for the good of Somali people.[xi] The British put as its chief negotiator Lord Michael Howard, former Leader of the British Conservative Party. He was appointed non-executive chairman of Soma Oil & Gas Exploration Limited, the Somalia-focused oil and gas exploration company. In June 2014, under an investment agreement, the details of which are unclear, , Soma announced that it had secured offshore seismic acquisition agreement with Somalia in 20,500 kilometers lines of 2D seismic over 122,000 square kilometers of offshore Somali coastline.[xii]  

Oil is used here only as an example. These ‘resource wars’ are waged throughout Africa not just in relation to oil but also in relation to a vast amount of natural resources in Africa - including diamonds, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, coffee, cocoa and woods. For example, the ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo is linked not only with across the border smuggling of gold into Uganda and Rwanda, but also, and primarily, because of DRC's rich mineral resources that are vital components for western electronics and military industries.

Global Anarchy: The absence of a proper global governance structure

Global corporate competition is both conspiratorial and anarchic. Earlier I referred to al Jazeera’s documentary - The Secret of Seven Sisters’ - that showed how the western corporation dominated oil cartel had made a secret pact to control the world’s oil. That is conspiratorial. There is competition between them, backed by their home governments, as the example of Somalia shows. There is a clear absence of any proper global governance structure that can regulate these corporations. The global system of competition is essentially anarchic.

We have seen this in the area of global finance. What better authority than Hank Paulsen - who ended his long service as US Secretary of the Treasury during the financial crisis - to make this point? In a September 13, 2013 interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt he warned against another financial crisis, triggered by one or more of the following factors.[xiii]

·         The ‘too big to fail banks’: the five biggest US banks have amassed $8.3 trillion in assets, which is $2.5 trillion more than in 2007;

·         The ballooning derivatives market: It has grown from $586 trillion in 2007 to almost $633 trillion in 2013 and is largely unregulated;

·         Shadow Banks:  With assets of $67 trillion (growing rapidly), it is an unregulated banking sector that is not even subject to capital requirements.

I should add that there are areas of global governance that work fairly well. But these are largely non-political functional bodies, such as the International Telecommunication Union and the World Meteorological Orgnisation.  But when it comes to trade-related organisations such as the WTO, it is politics that is in command – the powerful dictate how the rules are made, interpreted and applied. On the other hand, there are vast chunks of global governance issues that, when left to the corporations, are anarchic and conspiratorial – the two aspects of the corporate world encased in the same toxic capsule.

As far as commodities are concerned, for example, there is really no regulatory system. It must be understood that the speculators who deal in the futures market in commodity index have no interest in a regulatory system. In fact, because of the very nature of speculation in the commodities market, even the normal textbook rules of supply and demand do not apply.  The speculators do not want commodities as an asset class to be related to other assets, such as equities, bonds, real estate or foreign exchange, for the whole point of ‘hedging’ is to play one set of odds against another.  Since speculators have actually no interest in taking the physical delivery of commodities, they must sell the contracts before expiration, or ‘selling short’, and make room to buy new contracts.  It is essentially an unregulated anarchic war system of trading.

In this system the powerful rule; the weak are subdued or sanctioned, as we have seen in previous chapters.

How, then, in this power-driven global anarchical ‘system’ do we move from war to peace?

From War to Peace: Strategy and Tactics

Trade war is not the same as military war; they are different in significant ways. But there are certain principles of military warfare that could apply to trade war. An asymmetric power situation demands guerrilla tactics. I will elaborate on these when I come to discussing ‘Guerrilla War against Imperial Peace’.  There is a lot to learn from, among others, Sun Tzu, Mao, Che Guevara, Cabral, Le Duan, Giap, Gandhi, Nkrumah, Nyerere, and Castro. You might be surprised that I have put all the above in the same group. But if you look at their lives and how they have fought against asymmetrical power situations, you will understand that they have left behind a rich legacy of strategy and tactics of struggle when facing more powerful and dangerous adversaries.

But let us first look at what those in power tell us to do from on top. I give below the example of Christine Lagarde, the head the International Monetary Fund (IMF), because she talks from an institutional perspective. So my criticism of what she says is not personal but institutional.

The mainstream reformative strategy

On 4th February 2014 Lagarde delivered the 2014 Richard Dimbleby Lecture in London.[xiv] In her speech, entitled ‘A New Multilateralism for the 21st Century’, she drew attention to many challenges the global system faces.  She makes a bold statement with which I would agree.

‘In the past’ she says, ‘economists have underestimated the importance of inequality. They have focused on economic growth, on the size of the pie rather than its distribution. Today, we are more keenly aware of the damage done by inequality. Put simply, a severely skewed income distribution harms the pace and sustainability of growth over the longer term. It leads to an economy of exclusion, and a wasteland of discarded potential.’

Among other things, she drew attention to: ‘a shift in global power from west to east and from north to south’. This is, of course, relative, because she would agree that the north is extraordinarily powerful militarily. Let us search in Google and see what it says. I put in ‘US military compared to the rest of the world’, and this is what I got: ‘The U.S. spent more on defense in 2012 than the countries with the next 10 highest budgets combined. The $682 billion spent by the U.S. in 2012, according to the Office of Management and Budget, was more than the combined military spending of China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazil — which spent $652 billion, according to the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database.’ [xv]

Then, Lagarde gives a menu of things that needs to be done in order to change the situation for the better. Among these she mentions: ‘immediate priority for growth to go beyond the financial crisis’; deal with ‘high private and public debt’; ‘structural impediments to competitiveness and growth’; ‘weak bank systems’; the need for ‘a finance system that serves productive economy – in which industry takes co-responsibility’. She  her speech with a challenge to the present generation: ‘Our forefathers vanquished the demons of the past, bequeathing to us a better world-and our generation was the main beneficiary....Now it is our turn-to pave the way for the next generation. Are we up to the challenge? Our future depends on the answer to that question.’

This is quintessentially a reformist strategy. Of course, understandably, the head of the IMF could not have advanced a revolutionary strategy, even if in her private moments she had thought of one.

Our analysis of the global economic and trading system indicates -with due respect to Christine Lagarde - that the chances of a reformist strategy working out are practically zero. I do not wish to labour the point. The world will continue to grow, for sure, because of the development of the productive forces since before the time of capitalism.  But the distribution of the fruits of human labour will, under capitalism, be skewed in favour of the rich. The capitalist-imperialist system polarizes wealth and poverty. It is within its DNA. If the working classes have gained something – materially and in terms of having a voice in the ‘capitalist democracies’ (really, plutocracies), then it has been as a result of ‘guerrilla struggles’ at the political level. Despite these, the world has become more unequal over the last 50 years than over the preceding one thousand. The OECD's 2011 study – ‘Divided we Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising’ - revealed that globally the rich-poor gap has widened in the last decade. Between nations this is clearly evident. But even within advanced countries - including the .egalitarian’ states such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden - the rich-poor income and welfare gap is growing[xvi].

There is no possibility of a ‘distributive solution’ within the present system that is structurally engineered to produce inequality. And this is where Christine Lagarde’s optimism crashes to the ground. 

In contrast to this reformist strategy what we offer is strategy of a Guerrilla War against Imperial Peace.

A Guerrilla War against Imperial Peace

Why a non-violent guerrilla war?

The first question I face is whether I’m serious about a ‘guerrilla war’; am I being hyperbolic, even paranoid? Or just romantic?

Lest this conjures up images of Che Guevara, I should clarify that the strategy I present is not romantic. It is not paranoid either. It is serious. We have a lot to learn from Che, but we need to go beyond him. Those who are looking for another kind of peace have no choice but to engage in a nonviolent guerrilla war against it. I say non-violent, because I firmly believe that whilst it may be slow-moving, it is more humane, more effective, and more lasting. Violence is divisive, and whist its outcome might be almost immediate, it could be less enduring. There are many challenges facing non-violent guerrilla struggles. The journey ‘from here to there’ (however one defines the ‘there’) has immediate tactical challenges that may have to be addressed here and now, but strategically, it is a long protracted struggle.

A protracted struggle is not a one day wonder. Those for whom the root cause of all contemporary problems is Capitalism, then of course the struggle is epochal. They may have to wait a long time. For sure the system is cracking – like we observed when tracking the present anarchic financial mess – but the Capitalist ship is not about to disintegrate. And there are over six billion people on board. The strategy is to build a thousand– a hundred thousand - boats and begin tossing them in the ocean so that ‘women and children’ accompanied by good oarsmen begin to set forth in the bumpy ocean. By the time the Capitalist ship sinks, there should be nobody on board. So yes, it is an epochal struggle, and it had already begun with the Russian Revolution in 1917 - if not even earlier. Between then and now various experiments at Socialism have been attempted. These have left behind debris of lost or cracked boats in the ocean. But they have also left a wealth of experience and knowledge. Humanity has to learn from the successes and failures of nearly a century of struggles against Capitalism and its fellow traveller, Imperialism.

This is a difficult, complex, subject to tackle in the concluding section of a book that deals with a small aspect of the Imperial Ship’s doomed destiny. So I give below only a glimpse of the bigger picture. Without the bigger strategic vision, the tactical responses on the trade issue might not only be misguided but also illusory.

Philosophy of Contradictions

Lest the word ‘contradiction’ conjures up images of Mao, I should add that many guerrilla movements - among them in countries such as Peru and Sri Lanka - have used Mao’s teachings for legitimate political ends, but these have ended with disastrous consequences - for leaders and people alike. I was part of  an underground Maoist guerrilla movement in Uganda in the 1970s, and I have some experiential knowledge of its strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, while we have a lot to learn from Mao, we need to go beyond him.

In going beyond Mao, I widen the scope to include bigger issues of philosophy. The following diagram is an aid to explaining the complexity and interconnectedness of its three aspects.


Philosophy of Contradictions

              Conservative Forces at the International and National Levels





 Dynamic Productive Forces                             Revolutionary Social Forces











Following Marx, I would say that at the material level the most dynamic forces are the development of the productive forces.  To reduce this to science and technology and the organisation of production of material goods would be rather simple, but it captures the essence of the concept. Following Marx and Mao I would say that the working classes – those working on land and in industry and services – are the most revolutionary classes. However, I would add that it is not simply the ‘working classes’ that constitute the ‘masses’. Following Moses, Christ, Prophet Mohammad, Guru Nanak, Gandhi, Nyerere, Mandel (among others), I would say that the ‘masses’ is a much bigger concept. I would also say that the masses are inspired not only by material forces - the experience of oppression and exploitation at the level of production. They are also inspired by what for lack of a better word I call ‘spiritual forces’. These include, in my definition, ideology and Zeitgeist (spirit of the age or spirit of the time). I would add, however, that I identify Zeitgeist not as ‘modernisation ‘or ‘globalization’, but resistance against exploitation and oppression at all levels – nation, class, gender, age, religion and the environment.

I realise that I am treading on a hazardous philosophical discourse, and I am no philosopher. You might have problems with my above philosophy. But I leave it at that. My aim is to stir imagination with a view not to reach a consensus but a healthy debate. This should traverse not only strategic and tactical issues but also normative and ethical issues.

One question still remains. Marx and Mao envisaged a socialist vision. What is my vision, you might ask? Well, building on my ‘Capitalist Ship’ analogy, and thousands of small boats in the ocean, my vision is towards thousands of non-violent more or less self-reliant communities that organise their own methods of production and consumption that is not only ‘other-conscious’ but also ‘nature-conscious’. They should trade among themselves for goods and services for which they do not have the resources to produce, but they should ‘trade’ in them as ‘use values’ and not as commoditised ‘exchange values’. To paraphrase Gandhi, the world has enough to satisfy the basic needs of all, but not the greed of a billion greedy consumers at the cost of the five billion dispossessed and disempowered and at the cost of the environment and other species of being. Humanity should embrace all beings including flora and fauna.

And now to the gargantuan question: how do we transform the vision into reality?

Mobilising Material and Moral Forces

Transforming the vision into reality is easier said than done. But we have to make a beginning. There is no escape if we are to move out of the grossly unjust and violent ‘Imperial Peace’ to a new kind of peace, ‘Peoples’ Peace’.

We go back to the triangular relationship sketched above. We have to work at the two levels: material and social (at the ‘grassroots’) level … in order to challenge and eventually negate the conservative material and social structures at the ‘top-dog’ level.  The following are preliminary thoughts given the limited space and the need to convey a sense of direction as briefly as possible. Given more space and time, it might be possible, hopefully, for me to develop these ideas further.

At the material level

To help us travel this journey, I use the concept of ‘decoupling’.

In 1990, Samir Amin wrote an influential book – ‘Delinking towards a Polycentric world[xvii] Amin has been a major figure in challenging the existing capitalist and imperial order, and in providing a whole generation of scholars – from the north as well the south - with thoughtful and compelling arguments on why a new order is unavoidable.  Capitalism has come to the end of its road, he argues, and humanity needs to move to a new civilization. [xviii]

My decoupling concept is not very different from Amin’s ‘delinking’ but I use it slightly differently, which I explain below.

But before I do that I should first add that there are several nuanced versions of ‘delinking’ even when the word itself is not employed. Thus, for example, Joseph Stiglitz implies it in his essay ‘On the Wrong Side of Globalization on Trans-Pacific Partnership. [xix] He is right (in my view) to critique the TPP, but he seems to suggest that there is ‘right side’ to ‘Globalization’. In essence, Stiglitz is in the Christian Lagarde reformist mould, and therefore has same illusions as Lagarde on reforming the capitalist system by delinking from its ‘free market’ version to some kind of ‘regulated capitalism’.

In September 2009, Stiglitz was appointed to chair an important ‘Commission of Experts’ created by the Chairman of the 63rd session of General Assembly - Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann from Nicaragua. Its task was to analyze the global financial crisis and suggest ways to get out of it. The Commission recommended an 'Agenda for Systemic Reforms' essential for 'immediate global recovery'.  This consisted of ten items for ‘immediate’ action, including ‘More Stable and Sustainable Development Finance’ – one of the suggestions also made by Christine Lagarde. This was 2010. The Commission’s report was noted by the so-called ‘international community’, and put in the drawer. You might say that there would come a time when it would be taken out of the drawer and brought on the drawing board. Perhaps, but I think it is unlikely. Why? … because despite all indications that the post-2007 global economic crisis is worse than that of the 1930s, the warlords of the Capitalist-Imperialist system believe that a Keynesian solution is not what they want – at least for now.

Let me return to the concept of decoupling. My own use of the term comes mainly from its use by mainstream economists and journalists – like Wolfgang Munchau and David Pilling - who argue, in essence, that globalisation is real and here to stay and that decoupling from it is not possible. To them my argument is decoupling is not only possible, but is already happening, even within the capitalist framework. The globalisation project is in a deep systemic crisis. Countries like China, India, Brazil, Chile, Malaysia, Venezuela, etc have partially ‘decoupled’ from the global system -- for example, through defying the IMF by refusing to liberalise capital flows; putting in place full (China) or partial (India, Argentina) control over their currencies; and refusing to knuckle under ‘liberalising’ pressures from the US, EU and the WTO.  They have used state regulators to get banks to increase domestic lending at the expense of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) which are viewed by globalization enthusiasts as the best means of financing economic growth. They have done relatively well to provide ‘fire wall’ protection against the viral attack triggered by the US housing bubble crisis in 2007/8. They have created policy space that has enabled them to withstand the financial crisis much better than the North.[xx]

 I use the term ‘decoupling’ in a  different manner than the more austere word ‘delinking’ which denotes cutting off from the Capitalist system. In other words, to continue with my Ship analogy, these countries – BRICS plus, among others, Venezuela, Chile, Malaysia – have kept their body in the ‘Capitalist Ship’ but are not obeying the captain’s command, and have put out to the ocean their own ‘little capitalist boats’ to decouple from the main ship.

In my dictionary, then, regionalism is a kind of decoupling. We have seen in chapter three that the countries of East Africa have (so far) been able to sustain their regionalist ambition and programme, and have refused to knuckle under the European Union’s divide and rule tactics to force them to sign a ‘globalizing’ agenda under the EPAs. This, too, is an example of ‘decoupling’ from globalization.

A more radical form of ‘decoupling’ is indeed, one that is delinked from the Capitalist system of commodity production. That is indeed the long term strategy, the vision for the future. I argue that at the local or community level, ordinary people in the long run have to make a conscious effort to innovate ways and means of decoupling from the market-based iniquitous value system.

At the heart of the contemporary civilisational crisis is the reductionist logic that values everything in terms of money. Everything, including the dignity of the individual - especially vulnerable women and children - is subject to the ‘law of value’. Everything is commoditised. However, in the interspaces of this globalised system there are heroic efforts by some communities to distance themselves from the system. These include innovative approaches, including production of goods and services based on exchanges without involving money. Also, where money is needed as a medium of exchange, communities have created ‘communal money’ (a kind of labour voucher system) that is delinked from national currencies.

At the moral and ideological level

The German philosopher Karl Mannheim defined ideology as the total system of thought held by society's ruling groups that obscure the real conditions and thereby preserve the status quo. In his classic Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge he analysed the relationship between sociology and social policy, and the role of intelligentsia.[xxi] Borrowing from Karl Marx, Mannheim argued that the ideological structure of thought is conditioned by the class structure of society. He went on to say that in class-divided societies a special stratum of individuals ‘whose only capital consisted in their education’, develop their ideas to advance the interests of different classes. Amongst them are those that serve the ruling classes; they provide the knowledge that forms the kernel of the ruling ideology, the dominant ‘Weltanschauung’. These are opposed by another stratum that challenges the ruling orthodoxy, including the production of knowledge. Mannheim argued that the prevailing ideology makes the ruling groups opposed to knowledge that would threaten their continued domination.

Following Mannheim, I argue that we are at a crossroad between the neoclassical theory that has ruled for nearly forty years and produced the failed ideology of neoliberalism on the one hand, and on the other hand the challenge that radical intelligentsia faces to produce knowledge that would liberate the people as well as their political leaders from the prevailing obscurantist mindset.

Beyond the ideological level (which I define here mainly in the realm of economics) is the struggle at the political, moral and ethical level. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a good example. The Declaration is based on principles and values that most of us would endorse. But in the realm of global politics, given its basically anarchist character as I analyzed above, human rights have been grossly abused by NATO countries to intervene in the domestic affairs of mainly the countries of the South. One of its most abused corollaries is the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) resolution of the United Nations (resolution (A/RES/63/308).

It is the same with other valued norms such as democracy, freedom of the press, good governance, and others. They have become normative tools to fight what amounts to war against countries of the South such as Iran and Cuba, or groups within these countries in the name of fighting the 'terrorists.' It is necessary to create a different world without NATO and similar military alliances. Then, these political and ethical norms would mean what they genuinely stand for.

By way of Conclusion  

By way of conclusion, I first quote President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, and then some words of wisdom from Sun Tzu, the ancient (544 -496 BC) Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher.

On quitting the Commonwealth in October 2013, President Jammeh said something that is relevant to our earlier discussion on ‘resource wars’. He said:

One of the crimes I am supposed to have committed is to say we are not going to accept 5% from our petroleum resources.  To me, any talk of 3% or 5% royalties to exploit our resources is an insult.  The surveys already carried out show that this country has may be four or five billion barrels of oil and they want to give us only $400m, by a calculation of 5% royalty, and even that they say is too much for The Gambia… It could be dubbed a David vs. Goliath scenario when tiny Gambia stood up to a giant, withdrawing its membership from the still largely revered colonial British outfit that is the mighty Commonwealth.  … We believe that we are better off being on our own than joining institutions that do not want to listen to us, institutions that tell us what to do and not what we want to do.  So after 48 years of independence we have had enough of colonialism and Britain.  They have not taken us anywhere but backwards, and we want to be free to be able to be ourselves. …And while the Jews have been compensated and other people are being compensated, nobody is doing that for Africans.  We have not even received an apology from Great Britain. Africa's relationship with the West has seen Africa losing and the West gaining. And that will continue as long as we do not take a stand,[xxii]

That summarises well the message of this book.

On how to move forward, let us listen to the sage-strategist Sun Tzu, who drew his wisdom from Taoism, the knowledge that fostered both the healing arts and the martial arts in China

His classic The Art of War is full of wisdom on warfare that could well apply to our own time, and all forms of war, including guerrilla war. It is to beautifully translated by Thomas Cleary and produced as a Shambala Pocket Classic.[xxiii] It should be at the desk of every guerrilla fighter. Sun Tzu says that according to the rule for military operations, there are nine kinds of grounds. Here they are:

1.  Ground of dissolution: where local interests fight amongst themselves on their own territory;

2.  Light ground: When you enter others' land, but not deeply;

3.  Ground of contention: Land that would be advantageous to you if you got it and to opponents if they got it;

4.  Trafficked ground: Land where you and others can come and go;

5.  Intersecting ground: Land surrounded on three sides by competitors with access to all people in the continent;

6.  Heavy ground: When you enter deeply in to others' land, past many cities and towns;

7.  Bad ground: When you traverse mountain forests, steep defiles, marshes, or routes difficult to travel;

8.  Surrounded ground: When the way in is narrow & difficult way out. Even a small enemy force can strike you;

9. Dying ground: When you will survive if you fight quickly and perish if you do not. [xxiv]


Sun Tzu gives detailed strategy and tactics in each ‘ground’. ‘So let there be no battle on a ground of dissolution, let there be no stopping on light ground’, and so on. He is opposed to war: ‘To win without fighting is best’; and ‘A victorious army first wins and then seeks battle; a defeated army first battles and then seeks victory’.

If I were to summarise ‘Trade is War’ in terms of the above, I would say that Imperialism has managed to push the South on ‘bad ground’. Some countries like China, Cuba and Iran are united in the face of the adversaries, but most others are on the ‘ground of dissolution’.  This is mainly an outcome of the divide and rule tactics of imperialist powers, who, despite their differences, close ranks under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) when faced with situations like Libya in 2011 and Ukraine in 2014, and Palestine since the founding of the state of Israel in 1949. The EPAs war between Europe and Africa shows that Africa is on ‘ground of dissolution’, and unless Africa unites it would soon become a ‘dying ground’. Africa’s industries would simply ‘perish’, and with it Africa’s future. But this is no reason to despair or give up. The Security Council of the United Nations is more or less paralyzed, but with Russia and China their veto power can save the South from pushing the South on a ‘surrounded ground’. The General Assembly has no power of sanctions, but it is a ‘trafficked ground’.  It is also a ‘ground of contention’, and can be a useful means of isolating the adversary, as Palestine has done in relation to Israel. Also, the UN provides a useful platform to know your enemies and your friends, and to form alliances. As Sun Tzu says: ‘Those who do not know the plans of competitors cannot prepare alliances’.

As Tzu says: ’When your strategy is deep and far-reaching you can win before you even fight’.

So the war is not over. It is only the beginning. It is time to strategise for launching a thousand boats in the ocean. As President Yahya Jammeh says: ‘take a stand’.





[i] The classic work in this area is Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: the struggle for power and peace, 1967.  Others include, E.H. Carr, Henry Kissinger, George Kennan, and Samuel Huntington.


[iii] See Erik S. Reinert, How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Remain Poor, Paperback, 2008

[iv] Land sales in Africa have increased hugely in Africa. My daughter, Nidhi Tandon, has collected data from several African countries for Oxfam.  See: ‘Against All Odds. Women farmers and land grab in Africa’, Oxfam, January, 2011


[v] The so-called ‘Underdevelopment’ school of thought had its origins among Latin American scholars in the 1970s, and had considerable impact on African and Caribbean scholars such as Samir Amin and Walter Rodney. After the assault of neoliberal economics, the ‘school’ went into decline, but has in recent years again picked up some energy.


[vi] See Terisa Turner, (ed.) Oil and class struggle. London: Zed Press [with Petter Nore]


[vii] Soares de Oliveira, R. 2007. Oil and politics in the Gulf of Guinea, London: Hurst.


[ix] See chapter 3 for the background to the ACP and the Cotonou Agreement

[x]  ‘Somalia joins Cotonou Agreement’. Sabahi. 9 June 2013. ‘Mohamud praises Somalia's membership in Cotonou Agreement’. Sabahi. 10 June 2013.

[xi] The Horns of Africa: Neo Colonialism, Oil Wars & Terror Games By Shawn Helton.





[xvii] Samir Amin, Delinking towards a Polycentric world, Zed Books and St.Martin’s Press, 1990


[xviii] See also, Samir Amin, 2011. Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism? Pambazuka, CODESRIA


[xx] ‘After 2009 several Developing Countries started to control capital inflows, mainly through market-friendly measures rather than direct restrictions.  These included unremunerated reserve requirements (URR) and taxes (Brazil taxes on portfolio inflows; Peru on foreign purchases of CB (Central Bank) paper; and Colombia URR of 40 per cent for 6 months); minimum stay or holding periods (Colombia for inward FDI; Indonesia for CB papers); special reserve requirements (RR) and taxes on banks' positions (Brazil RR on short positions and tax on short positions in forex derivatives; Indonesia RR for total foreign assets; Peru higher RR on non-resident local currency deposits); taxes and restrictions over borrowing abroad (India on corporate borrowing; Indonesia on bank borrowing; Peru additional capital requirements for forex credit exposure); and taxes on foreign earnings on financial assets (Thailand withholding tax on interest income and capital gains from domestic bonds).  Some DCs such as South Africa liberalized outflows by residents in order to relieve the upward pressure on the currency.’ Yilmaz Akyuz ‘Are Developing Countries Waving or Drowning?’ South Centre: South Bulletin 76, 21 November 2013.

[xxi] Karl Mannheim, 1954. ‘Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge’, New York : Harcourt, Brace, London : Routlage & Kegan Paul


[xxii] New African, Nov 2013

[xxiii] Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War’, translated by Thomas Cleary, Boston, and London: Shambala Pocket Classic, 1991.


[xxiv] Ibid, p. 90