While the New York Times praises U.S. imperialism, we say...
Build the movement against imperialism!On March 31 the New York Times carried an article “Let American ‘empire’ rule, enthusiasts say”. It's lead-in was “Some scholars and commentators celebrate what they see as U.S. imperialism and world dominance.” Quoted were columnist Charles Krauthammer, Wall Street Journal editorial features editor Max Boot, Charles Fairbanks of Johns Hopkins University, Yale’s Paul Kennedy, and journalist Robert Kaplan. The Times writer herself enthused over their enthusiasm, and ended the article with a quote from Kaplan: “There’s a positive side to empire. It’s in some ways the most benign form of order.” And all of them taken together argued that a globally dominant United States “offers the best hope for peace and stability”.
Neither George Bush nor Tom Dashle would argue with this. It’s a rationale for Bush’s never-ending “war against terror”, a rationale for ever-increasing military spending when the U.S. already spends more than the total of the next nine largest spenders combined; and at a time when “all other navies in the world combined could not dent American maritime supremacy” (according to the above-mentioned Paul Kennedy), at a time when the U.S. has military bases and base rights in 40 countries, etc. But all the enthusiasm for U.S. imperialism expressed in the New York Times is utterly devoid of honesty (and represents contemptuous imperialistic morality). They talk about U.S. empire bringing peace to the world, but in just in the years since U.S. imperialism dropped atomic bombs on civilian populations in an essentially defeated Japan it has killed millions of people in wars: direct wars of intervention (as in Southeast Asia), and CIA-led dirty wars and wars by proxy (from Indonesia, to Central America, to Africa, to Afghanistan in the 80s). Now the “war against terror” has already killed thousands of Afghans, and according to the administration, it has barely gotten off the ground.
But our enthusiasts for imperialism are really haunted men and women. They go on and on comparing the American empire to that of the Romans or British, but they are silent on its class basis. Previous empires have all fallen and they know it. And an examination of which social classes originate and benefit from U.S. imperialism, and of which are exploited and oppressed by it, shows that the American empire has already within it the social forces whose material interests lie in its destruction.
Modern imperialism arose at approximately the beginning of the past century. From a purely economic angle it replaced the old stage of competitive capitalism when (1) the concentration of production and capital had developed to such a high stage that it created monopolies which played a decisive role in economic life; (2) banking capital was merged with industrial capital, and there was created, on the basis of this “finance capital”, a financial oligarchy; (3) the export of capital (as distinguished from the export of commodities) acquired exceptional importance; (4) international monopolist capitalist combines were formed which shared the world among themselves, and (5) the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers was completed. Moreover, in general, capitalist development is uneven, but this is intensified in its imperialist stage. The economies of some countries or regions shoot ahead while others fall behind relatively. Hence struggles for redivision of the world take place. This was what was at root of the two world wars of the last century, as well as the Cold War, and the many proxy wars between U.S. imperialism and the state-capitalist Soviet Union during those days. Further, the more capitalism is developed, the more strongly is felt the shortage of raw materials like oil. The struggle over these therefore gains increasing importance, as was reflected in the Gulf War.
Put another way, imperialism means monopoly and domination---economic, political and military. Compromises may be made, international agreements reached, but uneven capitalist development invariably means they will break down into new rivalries. If one power doesn’t monopolize and dominate, competitors will. But this monopoly has grown out of the old free competition, which it has not eliminated. Instead it exists over it and alongside of it, and this gives rise to a number of intense contradictions. Moreover, under imperialism, the capitalist system as a whole is expanding faster than before. Taken together these factors have led to great changes in the imperialist system in the century since it arose.
A hundred years ago half of humanity existed in outright colonies of the European powers, the U.S., and Japan. These colonies were often marked by feudal or other precapitalist relations of production. But at differing rates capitalism expanded within them, giving rise to colonial bourgeoisies and colonial working classes. These gave power to the anti-colonial struggles which achieved victory in the decades following World War II. Upon achieving independence, in a number of these countries capitalist development accelerated. This led to the old colonial master-puppet relations being superceded by new relations between the imperialists and the strengthened national capitalists of these former colonies. The dominant imperialists and growing bourgeoisies of the newly independent countries share common interests in capitalist development (with its rape of the environment and other infamies), common interests in exploiting and beating down the workers, etc., and represent a common imperialist front against the masses. But the laws of capitalist development throw the latter into intractable contradictions with their big partners as well: How should the domestic economy be shaped? What are the terms of loans going to be? What is each’s “fair share” of the loot being plundered? What are “fair” trading rules for the international market? Much of the haggling in the IMF/WB and WTO is centered on resolving these contradictions in a way favorable to the big imperialist powers which dominate them.
Another feature of the world a century ago was that hundreds of millions of people existed in semi-colonies (I.e., China and Iran) which rival imperialists looted, but no single one “owned”; or they existed in underdeveloped independent countries (most of Latin America) where often some power had special prerogatives (I.e, the U.S. in Latin America). Most of what is said above applies to these countries as well. And we see that in several of theses countries domestic capitalism has developed to such an extent that they’ve become regional powers, thereby sharpening their contradictions with the U.S. and other world imperialists. As capitalism develops, they are forced to expand and compete in their regions, and the more it develops, the more basis they have for their following their own agendas. For domestic consumption they cast their struggles to dominate regions as being anti-imperialist, but in reality it’s a struggle to be imperialist, I.e., China in Asia, Iran and Iraq in South Asia and the Middle East. And former semi-colonies or colonies China, India, and Pakistan haved developed nuclear bombs and delivery systems to further their rivalries.
Meanwhile the contradictions between the big imperialist powers themselves have not gone away. The U.S. is economic top-dog, but its relative economic strength in the world is declining while other powers relative strengths are increasing, I.e., the European Union. This has led to contradictions over trade. But no big power has ever gone off the stage of history without fighting, and U.S. imperialism has been using its unrivaled military strength to maintain its place in the sun for a long time. It used Sept. 11 as the pretext for launching a new world-wide assault against not only up-and-coming would-be rivals such as the pan-Islamist capitalists represented by Osama bin Laden and Co., but also against the struggles of the people in countries like the Philippines and Colombia. Any struggle undermining the interests of the U.S. financial oligarchy is labeled terrorist, whether truly reactionary and terrorist, or progressive. Thus the administration’s talk of unending war represents a resurgence of U.S. imperialism. And contrary to the luminaries quoted in the New York Times , the American empire has never to date been “benign”, nor has it brought “peace and stability” with it. In Afghanistan it just murdered several thousand innocents (“collateral damage”) in order to get bin Laden and overthrow the Taliban. The result is that we have a new gang of cut-throats lording it over the masses, while they kill each other in rivalries over the loot, and come into conflict with U.N. forces. Meanwhile neighboring Pakistan and Iran, Russia, the U.S., and Britain are all angling to get their piece of the pie. What kind of stability is this?
Lastly, there are other actors on the world stage besides the imperialists and their junior partners and rivals in exploitation. The unprecedented development of capitalism in the world has brought in its wake hundreds of millions of literate proletarians. This has been uneven of course, but even in some former colonies (like South Korea), the majority of the population was just a few decades ago engaged in scattered peasant production, mainly illiterate, etc. Now the majority have been organized by capital (viciously) into large industrial enterprises where they build up their own organizations to wage strikes, engage in nation-wide protests, etc. This class owns nothing but its labor-power, which it must sell in order to survive. Production has been immensely socialized, but appropriation of the fruits of the workers’ labor remains private (stock returns are the private property of the rich investors). Moreover, capitalism goes through overproduction crises and reorganizations which throw millions into the streets, the capitalists are forced to strive to drive wages to a minimum so as to win the war of competition with domestic and international rivals, etc. And despite the best planning of huge monopolists organized into institutions like the World Bank, the system remains anarchic. Leaving aside the mounting environmental crises which capitalist production only acerbates, all this places working-class revolution on the historical agenda: planned production, with the fruits of labor belonging to all; instead of competition-driven capitalist interests leading to wars and environmental ruin, cooperative interests in improving the lives of all and restoring the environment. Of course many petty-bourgeois are poorer than some workers, and other sections of the population are oppressed by capital, but because of its position in society (capitalism can’t exist without it), and because of the organization which is forced upon it by capitalist production itself, the working class is the historic gravedigger of capitalism. What it needs is consciousness and organization.
But with the rising of imperialism in the 20th century the capitalists were able to bribe a stratum of workers with the super-profits they garnered through monopoly operations in the oppressed countries. This stratum is today represented by the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. It preaches that there is a common interest between labor and capital. It works to tie the entire working class to the imperialist Democratic Party. It’s so thoroughly imperialistic that it’s often sent abroad to build trade unions on the American class-collaborationist model to either oppose those organized along militant or revolutionary lines where they exist, or to preempt such developments.
Although imperialism has thus split and pacified the American workers’ movement, it has also been creating conditions among the majority lower sections for class contradictions to once again break out. Since the 70’s the real wages of the vast majority of workers in this country have been falling. And the actual living standards have fallen further as the budgets for education, healthcare, social services, etc., have been slashed repeatedly; workers have to spend more hours getting back and forth to work because the capitalists don’t find it profitable to solve the transportation crisis; user fees have become “normal”, etc. Thirty years ago homelessness was relatively unknown; today it’s just the accepted norm. Thirty years ago temp labor was relatively unknown; today it’s the only kind of job which millions of workers can get. In short: the masses of workers have gotten poorer, while the rich have gotten richer. Thus imperialism hasn’t benefited them at all. Moreover, imperialist globalization has accelerated competition between the workers in rich and poor countries: the “race to the bottom”. The only way out of this is through development of international working-class solidarity and struggle (a fundamental condition for overthrowing imperialism itself).
So the imperialist AFL-CIO’s reformist politics have an economic basis which makes them a formidable force. But beneath the bribed stratum whose politics these represent exists an entirely different working-class world whose daily reality is at some point going give rise to bigger struggles, and which cries out for a political movement independent of the bourgeoisie. It is here that activists from the movements which have come up in opposition to imperialist globalization and Bush’s “war against terrorism” can play a role. The working class needs a class critique of imperialism, clarity on what it means for humanity, clarity on how its daily struggles fit into this, clarity on whom its friends and enemies really are. We can play a role in helping it develop these through patient work to write and spread anti-imperialist agitation within it, by taking our demonstrations to working class communities, etc. Certainly, we cannot of ourselves bring into being the really large and powerful movements of the oppressed needed to overthrow imperialism; only objective developments in the world caused by factors operating independent of anyone’s will can do that. But the history of the imperialist system shows that new crises will inevitably break out leading to such developments. And since we fight from one generation to the next, what we do in our world today---for better or worse---is contributing to the political conditions of the future. We know that driven by the laws of the capitalist system, U.S. imperialism is only going to bring wars and suffering as long as it exists---whether the government is in the hands of liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, makes no essential difference. To bring its eventual downfall requires that the role discussed be taken up.