“The bumbling empire?”: the murderous US empire trudges on

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Recently, President Obama extended the imperial war and occupation in Afghanistan beyond his time in office, leaving more troops “than planned” as bourgeois CNN declared on their website a few days ago. This, if one follows events of the last few years, is not a surprise. Still, some may say that the murderous empire is falling down/“bumbling” (like Jeremy Scahill) or on the road to collapse. This view is widespread across bourgeois “Left” circles: famed journalist Chris Hedges talks about the “failures and discontents” of the US empire, that democracy and imperialism are “incompatible,” and that the empire has been “declining” since the end of the Vietnam War; political theorist Sheldon Wolin says that “American imperium” can be rethought; former CIA analyst Chalmers Johnson says that not dismantling the empire will lead to “likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union” and that “decline and fall [of the empire] is foreordained.” [1] This article aims to point out why these approaches and perspectives are flawed, while looking at what the actual nature of the murderous empire.

Regardless of what some think, the empire seems as strong as ever. Sure, there is a growing US debt from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the US is still the “neighborhood bully” of the world neighborhood, and it still carries a big stick. Perhaps this is possible because of the lack of domestic opposition to the adventures of empire. Some Gallup polls show opposition to the Afghan and Iraq wars due to war-wariness caused by the cost and length of those wars but there is no firm public opposition to war, at the current time, since such opposition can easily be softened by imperialist propaganda projected by the military establishment and bourgeois media. The imperialist ideals can become ingrained in people’s minds, but likely not as much as in 1961. The US public is currently politically demobilized. As for the peace movement in the United States, it is basically a joke. There are few groups like CodePink, United for Peace and Justice, Veterans for Peace, the War Resisters League, and others but for the most part these groups are bourgeois in nature. The only groups of radical stature that are engaging in agitation for peace, as it could be called, are the Answer Coalition, tied to the Workers World Party (WWP), and the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). Unlike these groups, other groups generally do not build alliances with those in other countries to create an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist front to oppose the murderous empire.

As comrade Emma Quaragel (EQ), who was doxed and exposed by imperial agents mainly centering around Molly Crabapple, argued in a recent post, the US government “acts as the hired guns of a global class of jet-setting billionaires, imprisons 2.3 million of its own people,” that the Black Panther Party was arguably “the highwater mark for American revolution in the 20th century,” and that in the United States, a revolutionary movement can “only exist when there is praxis that recognizes the relationship between oppression in the US and imperialism.” EQ goes on to argue that today there can’t be an “antiwar movement…because we live in a media environment that seeks to destroy it in its nascence,” that since it is hard to find reliable figures on US empire, it opens the door for propagandists to deride/discredit “any remaining “Left” antiwar sentiment in the US,” meaning that building “an anti-imperialist antiwar movement will remain an uphill battle,” even among those small groups that currently exist. This argument is definitely valid and should be listened but this article does not wish to tread on the same ground and instead goes a different direction.

Some may see the continuing actions of empire with dismay. After all, with the US-backed coups in Ukraine (2014), Honduras (2009), Paraguay (2012), Maldives (2012), and Brazil (2016), coupled with drone strikes across the Muslim world from secretive drone bases, shadowy attack teams (JSOC, CIA, and so on), private mercenaries-for-hire, and authoritarian imperial proxy states such as Saudi Arabia, one may begin to lose hope. The murderous empire does not exist in a vacuum. However, without a country like the Soviet Union, there is no force, with organized (and equal) strength, to oppose this continuous empire. Yes, there are countries dubbed as “enemies” of empire such as Bolivia, Belarus, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Syria, the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), China, and Russia. Of these countries, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Cuba, Syria, Belarus, and the DPRK are under fierce overt and covert imperial assault coupled with imperial destabilization efforts. Saying this does not mean that Russia and China are not experiencing the same assault, but that these two countries have more resources to stand up to the imperialist monster.

It must be acknowledged that that Russia and China cannot be fully depended on to form part of the anti-imperialist front. Russia may have low approval of US leadership, be opposed to NATO’s movement near its borders, and thwart actions of empire but it is a capitalist state and has a bourgeoisie which is often called “the oligarchs.” These bourgeoisie are content to work with US bourgeoisie on certain issues such as anti-terrorism actions and the Syrian conflict, meaning that Russia is not fundamentally opposed to US empire. As for China, it has removed itself from its communist roots. It has a market economy with a great degree of state control and has retained some socialist principles. Still, since the Nixon visit to China in 1973 and Mao’s death in 1976, the Chinese government has been willing to work with the United States, which, during the Cold War, used China as a wedge to undermine the Soviet Union. There are only a few countries which can truly be described to be part of an anti-imperialist front and stick to anti-capitalist principles. These countries are Cuba and the DPRK, which have been dedicated to these principles since the 1950s. I don’t know enough about Belarus or Bolivia to say if this is true in those countries, but it is clear that Zimbabwe and Syria are committed to revolutionary ideals (Iran is sort of but also not) even if their anti-capitalist ideals have faded in their respective states. Venezuela arguably is also dedicated to anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist principles but is under threat from imperial forces overtly (ex: public support to the opposition by NED and State Department for example) and covertly (ex: CIA agents pushing for a coup) which is exacerbating and contributing violent situation within the country. While Venezuela would fall into the same category as Cuba and the DPRK, it has been, basically compromised as the government, which one could call socially democratic, is hanging on by a thread. Perhaps I do not know as much about Venezuela as I should but to me the current situation could have been mitigated, if not prevented, if the bourgeoisie had been expropriated. Obviously this action, which is not as simple as flicking on a light switch, could have changed the current predicament since the expropriation would have weakened the bourgeoisie in Venezuela, making it harder for the “opposition” backed by NED, USAID, and other imperial organs to gain a foothold and destabilize the country, like has been done in other countries dubbed “enemies.”

As it currently stands, there is no vote in the US presidential contest against the murderous empire. Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary, who should accurately be called Killary, Clinton is a “hawkish” imperialist who contributed to the destruction of Libya after the 2011 imperialist war and turned the State Department into an arm of the war machine as even Ralph Nader noted. Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump is sought by some as a “lesser evil” or “corrective” to the elitism (and warmongering) of Clinton, but he is an unpredictable, bigoted, and fascist monster. Still, Clinton is no better than Trump as both are basically egoists and megalomaniacs. From the edges of “acceptable debate” one may be shouting: “What about Bernie!” As it turns out, like Trump and Clinton, Bernie is also an imperialist, even if he is of a “moderating” or “dovish” flavor. Sanders, as the record shows, supports the continuation of the Afghanistan War, drone strikes of a “selective” quantity, and pushed for a policy to defeat ISIS via imperial proxies. To some it may have seemed that only person talking about “peace” was former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee even though his rhetoric clearly was wrapped in jingoism. Even in the October debate where one may think he was farther “Left” than Sanders on war, he just talked about the Iraq war, ending “perpetual wars,” was against arming Syrian “rebels,” and then talked about imperial “failures” along with repairing “American credibility,” finally casting himself as a “proven peacemaker.” He was almost like Dennis Kucinich who seemed very “pro-peace” but comfortably situated himself within the bourgeois Democratic Party, meaning that he cannot be relied upon to be part of an anti-imperialist front. There is some hope in alternative party candidates of the Green Party (Jill Stein), Socialist Party USA (Mimi Soltysik), WWP (Monica Moorehead), and PSL (Gloria Rivera). The Green Party is the most successful alternative party to the bourgeois Democratic and Republican Parties, which can be classified correctly as one capitalist party with “right” and “left” wings. However, the Green Party has tried to court the Sanders campaign and has reflected the campaign’s rhetoric, especially the laughable call for “political revolution” which was, as it turned out, just code for increasing voter turnout for his campaign and not at all revolutionary.

Some have asked if it is possible to maintain an empire without imperialist methods. This question is important to keep in mind considering that old established and informal national security “wise man” Zbigniew Brzezinski language of US imperial power so he could advocate for US-coalition building, then, as a result, incorporate and subordinate those countries considered “potential rivals.” Sure, one could define imperialism as forming and maintaining an empire, sometimes by conquest, in order to control world markets and raw materials or as the policy and practice of “seeking to dominate the economic and political affairs of underdeveloped…or weaker states.” [2] However, this definition could easily pop up in the column of some bourgeois “radical” writer as it is divorced from capitalism and ignores how imperialism is an activity for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. In his classic work, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Vladimir Lenin writes about the concentration of production in bigger enterprises, rise of monopolies (and cartels) and centralization of production as essential parts of capitalism, and that imperialism is the highest stage of development (and the monopoly stage), historically, of capitalism. [3] Many years before those bourgeois writers, like Matt Taibbi or Glenn Greenwald, would balk about corporate concentration in society, Lenin wrote that monopoly had become a fact, that capital and banking were becoming concentrated, that competition had been “transformed into monopoly,” and that a “handful of monopolists control all operations…of the…capitalist society.” [4] To any informed observer this sounds familiar to the same types of calls today, to some degree. On the topic of imperialism, Lenin argued that capitalists divide the world not due to greediness but because they are forced to by concentration of forces within capitalism and such concentration occurs in the powers of “monopolist capitalist combines” which place a few wealthy countries in a “monopolist position” in the world market, which was created by capitalism. [5] Lenin went even further and said that capitalism itself had grown into a “world system of colonial oppression and financial strong violation” of much of the world’s people by a small group of so-called “advanced” states which involve the world “in their war over sharing of their booty.” [6] Beyond his comment that imperialism is “striving for annexations” and that the world is divided between usrer states and debtor states, Lenin proposed five essential features of imperialism. [7] These features are as follows [8]:

  1. “concentration of production and capital”
  2. “the merging of bank capital with industrial capital”
  3. “export of capital”
  4. “formation of international capitalist monopolies”
  5. “territorial division of the whole world among the greater capitalist powers”

There is no doubt that at the current time, a society, like in the early 20th century as Lenin put it, “for the benefit of monopolies,” still exists as does these essential aspects of imperialism. [9] The Americanized form of imperialism is not the same as European imperialisms before, during, and after the Berlin Conference. The United States certainly has colonies like the “empires of old” manifested in its inhabited territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa (supposedly “self-governing” since 1967), Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. [10] However, the mainstay of the murderous empire comes in the hundreds of military bases, numbering 500 at minimum (most of which the military calls “installations” [11]), scattered across the world. Some cry about “Russian imperialism” or “Chinese imperialism” but neither of these countries has colonies or ways to project their own “spheres of influence” that matches, in any way, shape or form, the murderous imperial monster. For those people out there that claim that Crimea is a colony of Russia (I know someone will say this) it is important to remember that they voted by referendum to become part of Russia, they were not seized by Russia in a military maneuver or anything along those lines. As for this monster, the US imperial monster, it is building upon the colonial policy of capitalist states that Lenin described as completing the seizure of unoccupied territories, or those territories that do not belong to any state, on the planet. [12] US military bases, in foreign states that are not formally territories/colonies, states that are politically independent, can serve the same purpose of “old” imperialism: they enmesh such states so they are financially and diplomatically dependent on the United States. [13] The best example of this at the current time is the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The country is formally independent but its economy, and the state itself, its dependent on foreign aid from Western capitalist powers as even “mainstream” sources admit. [14] While none of those in bourgeois circles will say it, at least not openly, there is no doubt that such dependence means that Afghanistan is effectively a colony of Western capitalist powers, mainly of the United States, despite those resisting this imposition.

Taking this into account, along with what was said earlier, it is important to chart a way forward or at least provide some thoughts. In 1939, some argued it was time forthe British working class to change the British colonial system by helping to liquidate capitalist imperialism, showing they stand in a different camp than those seen as imperialist robbers” and said that imperial exploitation of South African natives is worse than the tragic condition of Jews under Nazi oppression and that such natives can easily sympathize with victims of Nazi oppression such as Jewish people. Years earlier, MN Roy (Manabendra Nath Roy) had argued that the British empire was tottering, in a “state of decay,” and that it must be broken up and replaced with a “union on a socialist basis” that frees the “present industrial organism” from capitalist ownership and transforms the empire into a “voluntary economic commonwealth.” Commonwealths of that nature were created by the French and British after their respective formal empires fell with the wave of anti-colonial movements in Africa and Asia from the 1940s to the 1960s, and these commonwealths have basically become a form of neo-colonialism. So, Roy’s conception does not seem to be a workable solution. Since the imperialist monster of the United States is a unique beast in many ways, different approaches will have to be tried. But, at minimum, the United States would need to close down all “foreign” (overseas and in colonies) military bases and free its colonies, formally called “territories,” from subjugation. The size of the military would need to drastically reduced, possibly turned into a defense force, as would the number of “domestic” military bases situated within the United States. The latter would require an economic re-orienting of communities dependent on the military and such. Of course, these aspects will not happen on their own. We can’t wait for the empire to fall on its own or hope that it will. Such waiting would be like boiling spaghetti without water and hoping it cooks: it isn’t going to happen unless you add water.

Sure, the ideas I floated could easily be construed as reforms and limited in their scope. That is a valid criticism. After all, the empire is more than colonies and military bases, and is more complicated, basically acting almost like a living being. Like the British empire, the US empire is “indeed in danger” but is not a “self-contained economic unit” unaffected or not threatened by “economic and industrial conditions of other countries.” An anti-imperialist front against the murderous empire is only possible if it is not only anti-capitalist but interlinks with other movements in the United States and those standing against imperial presence in other parts of the world. Specifically such anti-imperialism could easily interlink with Black Lives Matter, regardless of what some could categorize as  a diffused and sometimes bourgeois nature, or anti-racist actions since people of color are killed by the murderous empire, an empire that is inherently ingrained with white supremacy. Additionally, with the spread of “excess” military equipment, the military and “local” police are interlinked, bringing together different struggles for justice. Many groups in the past, including the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, the Young Lords, and the Red Guard, engaged in such interlinking, so this idea is not a new one in the slightest.

They way forward isn’t even possible by looking at definitions or word origins. As noted earlier, an empire is much more than a state that unites “many territories and peoples under a single sovereign power” but it is a stage and part of capitalism itself. [15] Even defining war was an open-ended hostility, conflict, armed conflict, or prolonged fighting does not go far enough either as such a definition is absent in mentioning of capitalism or even class. [16] Still, the origins of the word empire (and imperialism) derive from a Latin word meaning “command” which implies authority, a helpful reminder that empire and imperialism are dominating and authoritarian structures. [17] Beyond all of this, those that care about bringing the empire to its knees should participate in trying to make connections of imperialism to race, class, and whatnot. At the same time, an important component is critically supporting those peoples and countries standing up to imperialism such as Zimbabwe, Syria, the DPRK, and Cuba while countering those on the “Left” that scoff about “human rights” and refuse to stand in solidarity with active anti-imperialists.

Notes

[1] Chalmers Johnson. Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010. p. 184, 190; Chris Hedges. Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. New York: Nation Books, 2010. p. 103, 147-148, 150-151.

[2] Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Fourth Edition, ed. Michael Agnes). Cleveland, OH: Wiley Publishing, 2007. p. 715

[3] Vladimir Lenin. Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. New York: International Publishers, 1972. Reprint from 1939. p. 13, 16, 20, 22, 34, 59, 88.

[4] Lenin, Imperialism, p. 20, 25, 32, 25, 37.

[5] Ibid, 62, 68, 75, 82.

[6] Ibid, 10-11.

[7] Ibid, 91, 101.

[8] Ibid, 89.

[9] Ibid, 53.

[10] The US also controls a number of uninhabited territories all acquired before 1900: Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Navassa Island (claimed by Haiti), Palmyra Atoll (partially owned by The Nature Conservancy), and Wake Island. Additionally, the Guantanamo Naval Base is an illegal outpost of “extraterritorial jurisdiction” in Cuba and the US exercises a high degree of control in three countries, almost treating them like colonies: Palau, Marshall Islands, and Federated States of Micronesia. There are also two territories administered by Columbia but claimed by the United States: Serranilla Bank and Bajo Nuevo Bank. Magical Ben Norton thought he would have a short and silly post about the “5 US colonies” in which he talked about the Insular Cases, along with colonial exploitation briefly, piggybacking off what bourgeois liberal John Oliver said, and claiming that colonies can become independent by voting to do so which assumes that the vote would be honored by the United States and discounts revolts against the colonial status by assuming the approach for independence needs to be nonviolent. This is utterly ridiculous. It also seems that Norton does not understand how capitalism and imperialism are interlinked, not even mentioning the world in his silly little article.

[11] On page five of the PDF it says that the military counts 513 “active installations” worldwide but on page 7 of the PDF the number of “DOD sites” worldwide (not inside the United States) is 704, a number that combines such sites “overseas” and in “territories.” This number apparently does not include the 42 Army National Guard Sites, noted on page 17 of the pdf, which brings the number up to 746. Now, this number is completely different from what is noted on page 19 of the PDF: that there are overseas and in US territories: 24 large military sites, 16 medium military sites, 561 small military sites, and 101 other military sites, which combine to a grand total of 701 military sites worldwide!

[12] Lenin, Imperialism, 76.

[13] Ibid, 85.

[14] Sources include: “Afghanistan’s Addiction to Foreign Aid” in The Diplomat, “Money Pit: The Monstrous Failure of US Aid to Afghanistan” in World Affairs Journal, “Afghanistan at the Crossroads” in The Diplomat, “A decade of Western aid in Afghanistan: mission unsustainable?” in Reuters, “A Blessing or a Curse? Aid Rentierism and State-building in Afghanistan” in E-International Relations, “Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy,” report by Congressional Research Service, CIA World Factbook entry on Afghanistan which says under economy heading: “…Afghanistan will remain dependent on international donor support over the next several years,” “Afghanistan’s Dependence on Foreign Aid,” Council on Foreign Relations, “The Limits of U.S. Aid in Afghanistan” in Foreign Policy, “The Hand that Feeds” in The Economist, “The Afghanistan Mess: Fed Report Says We’ll Pay Up The Nose Long After Troops Return” in New York Daily News,Fiscal Sustainability and Dwindling Foreign Aid” in Outlook Afghanistan, “After 10 years of Karzai’s rule, has life improved in Afghanistan?” in NBC News and Allissa J. Rubin’s article in the New York Times titled “World Bank Issues Alert on Afghanistan Economy” (Nov. 22, 2011).

[15] Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Fourth Edition, ed. Michael Agnes). Cleveland, OH: Wiley Publishing, 2007. p. 465

[16] Ibid, p. 1611; Roget’s II The New Thesaurus (Expanded Edition, ed. Anne H. Soukhanov). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1988. p. 1164-1165; Marc McClutcheon. Roget’s Super Thesaurus. Cincinnati, OH: Writers Digest Books, 1998. p. 643-644.

[16] John Ayto. Dictionary of Word Origins. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1990. p. 200. The word “war” derives ultimately from a German prehistoric word meaning “strife” (p. 566) but this origin does not enhance the understanding of the word war in a meaningful way to be used in anti-imperialist struggle.