The China crisis, the motte-and-bailey fallacy, and the war between Russia and the West in Ukraine

There is a bizarre to-and-fro that goes on in debates about the war in Ukraine, in particular imitating the ‘motte-and-bailey’ medieval castle with outer and inner fortifications. These arguments go from one leg to another, refusing to endorse any particular truth and entertaining a contradiction that demonstrates the falsity of their fundamental claim: that it is worth giving the Ukraine any support in fighting Russian forces, and that it is worth further antagonising Russia, a nuclear-armed once-was superpower with an economy teetering on the edge of collapse.

Oil claims by countries in the South China Sea.

The fallacy on the one hand involves emphasising Russia’s mystical all-powerful ability to conquer Europe, and on the other hand emphasising Ukraine’s rebellious ability to defeat Russia. It essentially boils down to a narrative borrowed from the original Star Wars trilogy, where rebels defeat the empire through sheer moral fibre and plucky determination. It’s a nice story. It’s also a strange take on the Second World War, where only American de facto superpower abilities defeated Nazi Germany, after twenty million Russians perished stopping Hitler’s forces from reaching Moscow and turning Eurasia into a fascist dystopia. Britain played its role, aided by the English Channel and the inability of bomber planes then to see in the dark of black-out London. London and Moscow stood against the tyranny of Berlin while Washington bided its time, until Tokyo provoked America into action with the bombing of Pearl Harbour. How soon the reality of history is forgotten — and how sooner the facts of history take on a fantastical life of their own!

The ongoing war between Russian and western-backed militias in Ukraine contains a truth which this motte-and-bailey fallacy belies: that the war is not going to end any time soon. It is a quagmire like Vietnam, like Syria. America got stuck there, and now Russia is stuck in Ukraine. This will weaken Russia’s power, while also driving it into the arms of China. It will strengthen China’s claim to be the next great superpower, and turn Eurasia into a Chinese-dominated continent before climate change decimates all equatorial regions in the coming century. The globalisation of capitalism since 1980 has replaced the Russian and Japanese challengers to American hegemony with a far more powerful Chinese pretender to the throne, uniting Japanese-style economy with Russian-style military power, creating a new superpower with the potential to cause a great deal of trouble.

Alas, we are not even looking to China, but to Taiwan, a distraction like the Ukraine, seen as significant due to its important commodities for global trade. But global trade depends not on grain (Ukraine) or semiconductors (Taiwan) but on oil (the South China Sea). It is in the South China Sea that the real war will be fought, as China militarises isle after isle. We are facing a catastrophe of terrestrial significance with climate change, and a catastrophe of societal reckoning with the inequality and imbalances of contemporary capitalism. The rise of China is the immediate and impending doom for geopolitical balance, and the crucial catalyst for crises of capital and climate change, via the fossil-fuel industry and widening inequality, accelerated by the shadowy hegemony of finance and investment funds. The world is coming to a standstill, at which point all hell will break loose. For time is short, and we haven’t got long.

It’s like when Jon Snow tells everyone about the white walkers, but nobody listens. This world is aware of the threats, but doesn’t recognise their significance or their precise location or the particular remedies that must be implemented with great caution and considerable ambition. We are sleepwalking into this crisis we pretend to be aware of. The ‘omnishambles’, Brits call it; the ‘climate crisis’, Americans sometimes call it. It is, in truth, the omnicrisis of ultracapitalism. It is the end of the worlds and the war for the Whole. It is something completely and radically new, and yet we must immerse ourself in an understanding of the reality of history to adapt to this change, while confining fantasy to poetry and artistic pursuits, such as music. But in music we may find an emotional unity that the economic logic of politics lacks. We have to start somewhere in saving the world from the coming catastrophe. It is nearly here. Winter is upon us. Let us be ready. I will sleep. Soon we must all wake up.

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