Who would have thought that the price of bread and oil, of many domestic goods, could be so influenced by the war in Ukraine, a result of the division between east and west that had its foundations laid in the Second World War?
Had we lost the war, it may well have put to an end the growing democratisation of the market place that has allowed more and more people to express themselves through their purchases, as well as their votes. The war cut the world into the big chunks of politics that now divide it: Russia, Europe and America, with China hovering and successful. A postwar success that has grown out of the defeat by the Chinese communists of the Chinese nationalists, which would not have happened if it were not for the preoccupation of the west with other things.
For ‘other things’ read the growing antagonism between the ambitions of the east and the ambitions of the west. And the fact that at the war’s end only the US, owning half the world’s wealth, came out wealthier and healthier.
Now we seem to be reliving some of the ambitions of the east to be a force in the world again. And the tragedy of Ukraine is part of the grasp for political power and significance by Russia. Obviously matters back then, in the immediate postwar world, were not completely resolved.
Will we return to a balance of power ever again? For it was the balance of power that kept the big
confrontations off the table. The relative peacefulness of the postwar world, with surrogate wars fought between east and west in Korea and Vietnam, hid the calamity of such a divided world.
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Interestingly, one of the big arguments against big wars was that we had been so immersed in each other’s commercial life, buying stuff overseas and trading internationally, that we did not need war any more. Globalisation was going to make us so dependent on each other for supply and demand that never again would we lift a gun. Differences within and between nations would be sorted out in the realms of commerce.
Unfortunately, so attractive was the ending of production in the west and its exportation to the east to shareholders of the big companies, that they jumped at it. And of course the customers, the consumers of everyday life products, were attracted by lower prices. Clothes became a case of pushing down the cost to such extraordinary proportions that it turned almost all garments into sweatshop products (watch Greed, not a great film but good on the killing fields of exploitation in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka).
Alas, the poorly thought out potential disasters that could come our way if we export jobs are legion. We can say Brexit, Trump and even Putin grew out of the dangers thrown up by globalisation, as well as its opportunities for increasing consumerism.
The world is now redivided and the west, our west, seems more unstable than it’s ever been in recent time. And politics at home seem ill-prepared for facing up to anything to do with a return stability.
John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. Read more of his words here.
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