Five Leaders Challenging Western Imperialism
Pope Francis, Vladimir Putin, Xi, Jinping, Hassan Rouhani, and
By James Petras
October 09, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - Western imperialism, in
all of its manifestation, is being challenged by five political
leaders, through diplomacy, moral persuasion and public pressure. In
recent time, Pope Francis, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese
President Xi Jinping, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Labor
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn have raised fundamental questions
concerning (1) war and peace in the Middle East and the Caucuses;
(2) climate change and the destruction of the environment; (3)
economic sanctions, military threats and confrontation; and (4)
growing inequalities of class, gender and race.
The New Global Agenda
These five protagonists of a new global agenda
differ from past critics from the left both in the style and
substance of their politics.
The politics of change, reform and peace in the
near immediate period has a particular complex, heterodox
complexion, which contains traditional conservative and popular
These leaders have a global audience and major
impact on world public opinion – and indirectly and directly on
Defying Past Left-Right Divisions
These five leaders defy the traditional left-right
division. Pope Francis demands immigrant rights, equal pay for
women, diplomacy and peace negotiations instead of war, and greater
class equality. He excoriates neoliberal, capitalism (“the dung of
But he also defends traditional Catholic doctrine
on abortion, divorce, contraception and homosexuality. He opposes
class struggle and social revolution in favor of class
collaboration, dialogue, and negotiations.
President Putin favors negotiations and peaceful
resolution of conflicts in Syria and the Ukraine. He is an ardent
advocate of a global coalition to fight Islamic terrorism. He has
sharply reduced western pillage of the Russian economy and restored
salaries, pensions and employment. He has restored Russian military
capacity and national security and reduced terrorist assaults from
At the same time Putin supports some of the
biggest Yeltsin era billionaires; is closely aligned with the
conservative Russian Orthodox Church; and is excavating the remains
of the last tyrannical Russian Tsar to honor him and his family.
President Xi Jinping has played a leading role in
promoting increases in consumer spending, wages, pensions and social
welfare. He has deepened links with US high tech industries and
signed off on a major reduction of carbon fuels and pollution,
offering $3 billion dollars to fund alternatives for less developed
countries. He has fired, prosecuted and jailed over 250,000 corrupt
government and party officials who exploited and abused the public,
while limiting operations of speculative Western hedge funds.
At the same time, Xi retains the authoritarian one
party system; defends China’s one hundred-plus billionaires; and
restricts all forms of independent class political and trade union
Hassan Rouhani is both devout practicing Muslim
and a staunch advocate of peace. He supports a ‘nuclear-free Middle
East’. He is a consequential opponent of terrorism by Salafist
Islamists, Zionists, Christians and Hindus. He is the leading critic
of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen and a principled
defender of national self-determination. Internally he has reduced
authoritarian state controls and censorship of free expression and
promoted scientific and technological research – in a country where
half of research scientists are women.
President Rohani has signed a high risk peace
agreement with the US and its partners (5 + 1) dismantling Iran’s
nuclear facilities and opening its military installations to
international inspection by an international atomic agency of
At the same time, Rohani opposes a secular state,
supports liberalizing the economy, invites foreign multi-nationals
to exploit lucrative oil and gas fields, and supports the corrupt
and regressive US backed Shia regime in Iraq.
Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected head of the
British Labor Party, has been a consequential critic of neo-liberal
capitalism and a strong advocate of public ownership of strategic
economic sectors. He backs a highly graduated progressive income tax
to finance a comprehensive welfare program. e a
He advocates a democratic foreign policy that
opposes Anglo-American and Israeli imperialism in the Middle East
However, upon taking office as head of the
neo-liberal, pro-imperialist Labor Party, he confronts a
parliamentary party dominated by his adversaries. His appointments
to the “shadow cabinet” are overwhelmingly pro-NATO and pro-European
Union; some even oppose his Keynesian budgetary agenda. Moreover,
Corbyn endorses ‘working in the EU’ and promises to support a ‘yes
vote’ in any referendum, even as the world witnessed how the EU
imposed harsh austerity budgets on Latvia, Greece, Spain, Portugal,
Ireland and other countries in financial straits.
The Collective Impact of the Five
There is no question that these five leaders have
made a major impact on world public opinion on issues of peace,
climate change, equality and the need to reach international
agreements. In most cases one or more of the leaders have exercised
greater influence on a specific public or region and have had a
greater impact on some issues over others.
The Pope, for example, has greater influence on
Christians; Rohani on the Muslim public; Putin, Corbyn and Xi on
secular opinion. Xi and the Pope have a greater impact on proposals
for climate change. Putin, the Pope, Rohani and Xi are prominent in
advocating peaceful resolution of conflicts; Corbyn and the Pope on
reducing inequalities and securing social justice.
With the exception of Corbyn and Xi, all support
traditional religious beliefs and observances. Most are ‘ecumenical’
in the sense of supporting religious tolerance.
Most important, all pursue these goals through
persuasion, diplomacy and winning over public opinion. None of these
world leaders have invaded or overthrown incumbent adversarial
regimes or occupied countries. All are leading opponents of terror –
President Putin is playing a leading role in
challenging President Obama to join a broad coalition, including
Bashar Assad and Iran, in fighting ISIS terrorism.
Washington, despite its rhetorical hostility, was
pressured to respond – ‘partially favorable’.
President Putin has also taken the initiative in
the Middle East. He leads a coalition, including Iraq, Iran and
Syria to co-ordinate the war against terrorism.
China’s President Xi has committed military forces
in support of the Russia’s anti-terrorist proposal for Syria. The
Pope has offered tacit support via his pronouncements against
terrorism and for international coalitions.
As a consequence of the massive flood of refugees
resulting from the US-EU-Saudi-Turkey support of Islamist
mercenaries invading Syria and Iraq, several European allies of
Washington are reconsidering their anti-Assad policies. They are
moving toward the broad front proposals of Putin-Rohani-Xi and the
The social-economic impact of the Pope’s call for
social justice is less apparent, apart from the routine lip-service
from Western leaders. Among the quintet, Rohani is looking toward
‘market solutions’: inviting Western and Asian investors to
revitalize the oil industry. Xi is cracking down on big time
fraudsters in China and abroad, but has yet to embrace a
comprehensive welfare and incomes policy. Putin presides over a
petrol-economy in recession and has relied on private corporate
oligarchs and overseas investors to regain growth. Corbyn’s
egalitarian pronouncements have little impact among Labor Party
politicians and his shadow cabinet. Moreover, he appears reluctant
to mobilize the rank and file Labor activists for a fight for his
program within the Party.
The climate change and environmental struggle
received robust backing from the Pope –in his speeches to the US
Congress, the United Nations and in his mass gatherings.
President Xi reinforced the message by proposing
to fund a massive clean air program for the less developed
countries, while setting rigorous targets to reduce pollution in
China. There is no doubt that their message is well received by all
environmental groups and the general public. Some political leaders,
including Obama, appear to be, in part, receptive.
Rohani, Putin and Corbyn have played only a minor
role in the defense of the environment.
Response of the Western Powers
The US, EU, Japan, Israel and Australia, referred
to as the ‘Western Powers’ paid lip service to the cause of peace,
while continuing to pursue military objectives via air wars, cross
border terrorist activities and military build ups.
In general terms, they manipulate a double
discourse – of talking peace and bombing adversaries.
However, the Western Powers feel the pressure of
‘the quintet,’ which is winning the political ideological contest.
The ‘Russian threat’ is no longer viewed as credible by most of the
international public. China’s international financial initiatives
have gained major support from across the globe.
Japanese militarization has provoked mass domestic
unrest and regional concerns – especially in Southeast Asia.
Israel is a pariah, not just in the Middle East
but is increasingly viewed with hostility by the rest of
international public opinion.
Germany, Europe’s leading economic power, has been
discredited because of the massive fraud scandal by Volkswagen, its
leading automobile maker and major exporter.
In other words, while the Western Powers retain
military superiority and important markets, their overseas policies
have suffered severe setbacks and their leaders have lost
credibility. Their domestic and overseas supporters are turning
against them. Moreover, the moral authority of Western leaders has
been severely questioned by the Pope’s harsh critique of the
‘exclusionary’ policies toward immigrants and refugees, the
excessive greed of capitalism, the reliance on force instead of
diplomacy and the massive human suffering due to capitalism’s
unrelenting destruction of the environment.
The Pope’s generalities would not have had such a
powerful political impact, if they were not accompanied by (1) the
selective use of arms and diplomacy emanating from President Putin;
(2) the diplomatic successes of President Rohani; and (3) the
economic muscle of President Xi, in support of economic development
and international co-operation on the environment and climate
From widely divergent origins and diverse
ideological backgrounds, five political leaders have set a new
agenda for dealing with war and peace, equality and inequality,
security and terrorism and environmental protection. Except for
Jeremy Corbyn, who in any case will probably be rendered impotent by
his own party’s elite, none of these progressive leaders’ ideologies
is derived from the secular left.
They challenge the status quo, and raise the
central issues of our time, at a time when the secular left is
marginal or self-destructs (as Greece’s Syriza, Spain’s Podemos or
Italy’s Five Stars in Southern Europe).
Faced with this heterodox reality, the Left has
the choice of (1) remaining in sterile isolation; (2) embracing one,
some, or all of ‘the quintet’; (3) or aligning with them on specific
pronouncements and proposals.
The five have sufficient drawbacks,
‘contradictions’ and limitations to warrant criticism and distance.
But in the big picture, on the major issues of our time, these
leaders have adopted progressive policies, which warrant
whole-hearted active support. They are the only ‘show’ in the real
world – if we are serious about joining the struggle against
imperial wars, terrorism, environmental destruction and injustice.
James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus)
of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York