Let’s not get crushed by geopolitics


By: Raúl Zibechi

Geopolitics deals with imperial thoughts and ways of seeing the world, at the service of the most powerful states. It emerged that way and continues to be so, although some intellectuals persist in a sort of “left geopolitics,” or even “revolutionary.”

Geopolitics emerged at the beginning of the of the 20th century among geographers and military strategists from the North, who link geographic realities with international relations. The term appeared for the first time in a book by the Swedish geographer Rudolf Kjellén, titled The State as a way of life. US admiral Alfred Mahan developed the strategy of naval dominance, while Nicholas Spykman defined the regions of Latin America where the United States must maintain absolute control to guarantee its global dominance.

Geopolitics had a great development in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, reaching great diffusion during Nazism. In Latin America, military men of the Brazilian dictatorship (1964-85), such as Golbery do Couto e Silva, were based in geopolitics to defend the expansion of Brazil, to finish occupying the Amazon and thus become the regional hegemon.

I’m not interested in delving into this discipline, but rather into its consequences on the peoples. If geopolitics deals with relations between states, and in particular with the role of those who seek to dominate the world, the great absent in this thinking are the peoples, the oppressed multitudes that are not even mentioned in their analysis.

A good part of those who justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine fill pages denouncing United States atrocities. One reminds us: “the United States carried out 48 military interventions in the 1990s and was involved in several endless wars, during the first two decades of the 21st century.”

He adds that in that period, the Americans “carried out 24 military interventions around the world and 100,000 aerial bombardments, and in 2016 alone, during the Barack Obama administration, they launched 16, 171 bombs on seven countries.”

The logic of these analyses says something like this: Empire A is terribly cruel and criminal; but Empire B is much less damaging because, evidently, its crimes are much less. Since the United States is an imperial machine that murders hundreds or tens of thousands each year, why speak out against someone who kills just a few thousand like Russia?

This is the creeping and calculating way of doing politics that doesn’t take human pain into account, that considers that the peoples are only numbers in death statistics, or considers them only as cannon fodder, as numbers on a scale that just measures corporate and state benefits.

On the contrary, those below place the peoples, classes, skin colors and oppressed sexualities in first place. Our starting point is not the states, nor the armed forces, nor capital.

We don’t ignore that there is a global scenario, expansionist and imperialist nations. But we analyze that scenario to decide how to act as movements and organizations from below.

In Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, written in 1916 during the First World War, Lenin analyzed monopoly capitalism as the cause of the war. But he didn’t take sides and strove to transform the carnage into a revolution.

That’s how Immanuel Wallerstein worked. His theory about the world-system seeks to comprehend and explain how political and economic relations function on a globalized planet, for the purpose of promoting social transformation.

These are useful tools for the peoples in movement. Because an understanding of how the system works, far from leading us to justify any of the competing powers, leads us to anticipate the consequences that it will have on those below.

Zapatismo names the systemic chaos that we are experiencing as “the storm” and also considers that it’s necessary to comprehend changes in the functioning of capitalism. Regarding the first, the conclusion is that we must prepare to face extreme situations that we have never before experienced. Have we ever thought that they can use atomic weapons in the coming years?

Regarding the second, although the Zapatistas don’t mention it explicitly as far as I remember, it’s evident that the richest 1 percent have kidnapped the nation-states, that the communications media doesn’t exist, but only intoxication and that electoral democracies are fairy tales, when not excuses for perpetrating genocides. Consequently, they don’t let themselves get entangled in state logic.

We’re facing dramatic moments for the survival of humanity. We must elevate our gaze and not let ourselves be dragged into the geopolitical quagmire. When the smoke is so thick that it prevents us from distinguishing light from shadow, let us trust in ethical principles to continue forward.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, March 26, 2022, https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/03/25/opinion/015a2pol

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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