The Surprising Absence Of Credible Anti-Systemic Movements
Despite the West’s loss of prestige as a result of the global financial crisis in 2008 and the ongoing eurozone crisis, there is a distinct lack of credible and global-level anti-systemic movements – that is to say, movements that actively seek to overthrow the existing international political and economic order.
During the Cold War, the anti-systemic forces were led by the Soviet Union and Maoist China, but since that time, nothing has come close to posing a credible challenge to the international system.
Al-Qaeda and the forces of militant Islam clearly represent anti-systemic forces, but they do not control a state’s apparatus from which to project their interests. In addition, they do not offer a credible alternative economic system. Furthermore, while Communism gained support in a wide range of places (Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia), radical Islam cannot really gain support from outside the Muslim realm (indeed, it struggles to gain support among Muslims). Therefore, al-Qaeda and its allies can be considered disruptors rather than strategic challengers. Elsewhere, there are pockets of resistance to the international system in the form of the regime of North Korea and possibly Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, but they are not direct threats to the global order.
Significantly, the global economic crisis of 2008-2009 failed to result in a decisive political shift to the left (unless one truly believes Barack Obama is a socialist!) or boost the anti-capitalist ‘Battle of Seattle’ crowd that briefly flourished in the early 2000s. Although various ‘Occupy’ movements sprang up in many cities over the course of 2011, they have not coalesced into a sustained political movement.
It is probably true that state capitalist forces have received a boost in recent years, but it is questionable if they are truly anti-systemic. In time, China could become sufficiently powerful to seek to radically re-order the international system, but any attempt to do this unilaterally would run into fierce opposition from the US, Europe, Russia, and India.
Nonetheless, the absence of credible anti-systemic movements at this time does not mean that one will not emerge. Arguably, there is surprisingly little terrorism and political violence, given the massive inequalities worldwide. But new movements could emerge if major economies were to experience a true depression following a future economic crisis, or as a result of unforeseeable social shifts.
The latter could result from ethical debates emerging from new technologies such as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and cloning. Imagine, for example, the debates stirred up if a country were to field a clone army (or an entirely drone air or tank force) or cloned or robotic manual labour force. A backlash would be a high possibility. But all this is probably in the far future.